As LIV continues to gain momentum and poach some of the game’s biggest names, Rory McIlroy called on golf’s leading tours to at least have a conversation with officials from the rival league.
In an interview earlier this week at the JP McManus Pro-Am, McIlroy seemed to soften his hard-line stance and called for collaboration.
When asked by BBC Sports NI whether the PGA and DP World tours should have “peace talks” with LIV, McIlroy said: “I think so. I think that needs to happen.”
That marks a stark departure for McIlroy, who, as one of the four player directors on the PGA Tour Policy Board, has naturally been one of the leading spokesmen for the Tour. In February, in the wake of Phil Mickelson’s controversial comments, McIlroy said the LIV circuit was “dead in the water,” but he has since admitted that his declaration was premature.
To this point, Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has refused to engage with LIV frontman Greg Norman, despite the former world No. 1 calling him out by name in interviews and press releases over the past several months.
McIlroy’s about-face suggests a realization that the Saudi-backed startup league isn’t going anywhere and that a continued fracturing at the elite level could irreparably damage the sport. LIV just completed its second event, in Portland, and by many accounts the experience for players and their support teams was overwhelmingly positive. More players are expected to bolt for LIV following next week’s Open Championship, as well as following the conclusion of the FedExCup playoffs in late August.
LIV said last week that it was beginning its 14-event league format in March 2023, a year earlier than anticipated. Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Mickelson are among the stars who have already joined the breakaway tour.
It's unclear at this stage what a compromise would even look like. Monahan has indefinitely suspended any Tour member who has teed it up in a LIV event; many have already resigned their membership.
“It’s unfortunate, it’s messy, I wish it hadn’t have gotten that messy and in hindsight, I think there were probably steps that were missed that wouldn’t have made it that messy,” McIlroy told BBC Sports NI. “But I said this back at the very start in 2020, I think in the long term it will make the game better because I think it will force the tours to adapt and change and make the product better and focus on maybe the fan engagement side of things and focus on maybe some stuff that they’ve been neglecting over the years.
“I think in the long term there’s just this disruption happening, and with disruption comes change and forced change, and I think this has just forced the tours’ hands a little bit and they have to adapt and change, and that’s what they’ll have to try and do.”
The PGA Tour has already announced significant changes in the past few weeks. The circuit will boost purses in its marquee events and return to a January-August schedule, with only the top 70 players qualifying for the playoffs. The top players will be eligible to compete in a lucrative international series in the fall (or take off the fall entirely), while the rest will vie for priority and status stateside. In a strengthened alliance with the DP World Tour, the PGA Tour also said that the top 10 European tour players at the end of the season will receive their Tour cards.
McIlroy even seemed to echo comments made recently by DP World Tour chief executive Keith Pelley, who said he would be willing to engage with LIV officials if they worked inside the current ecosystem instead of launching a rival tour. McIlroy was the first golf superstar to spurn the Saudis, saying in 2020 that he wasn’t comfortable with the controversial source of funding, with LIV being backed by the Saudi government’s Public Investment Fund. But now, he views the significant influx of cash as a boon to the sport – if pumped into the “existing structures.”
“Look, there’s so much chat about where the money’s coming from and Saudi and everything else, and they sponsor so many other things and they’re all over sport,” he told the BBC.
“[Saudi oil company] Aramco are big sponsors of Formula One, the Aramco Ladies Series in golf, which has actually been really good for the ladies in terms of big prize funds and so on, so I understand people’s reservations with everything.
“But at the same time, if these people are serious about investing billions of dollars into golf, I think ultimately that’s a good thing. But it has to be done the right way, and I think if they were to invest, having it be invested inside the existing structures. And I think that’s the thing I’ve tried to advocate for the last few months – I think at this point, if people are wanting to spend that much money into golf, that’s wonderful; I just wish that we could have spent that much money within the structure that has existed for many decades in golf instead of being a big disruptor.
“At the end of the day, I said it will sort itself out, and everyone has to pivot and change and try to adapt and be better, and hopefully we get to that stage. But right now, it’s sort of messy and all the narrative isn’t good. It’s splitting the game instead of everyone coming together, and I think everyone has to try and come together a little bit more.”
McIlroy said he has a “difference of opinion” with those who have chosen to defect from the PGA Tour, but he doesn’t have any lingering resentment toward those players, many of whom are longtime friends. Still, he acknowledged the thorny issue of those wanting to play both circuits; Ian Poulter was one of the players who won a stay to play in this week’s Genesis Scottish Open, which is co-sanctioned by both the PGA and DP World tours.
“I think at this stage, if you go and play on a different tour, then go and play on a different tour,” McIlroy told the BBC. “I think having your cake and eating it is the resentment that’s within the membership. Because there’s only 48 players on this tour, so not everyone’s going to get an opportunity to go and play. You’re leaving all your peers behind to go and make money, which is fine.
“Just go over there, don’t try and come back and play over here again. That’s the tricky part and that’s where the resentment is coming from. For me, I don’t resent anyone. These guys are my friends, regardless of the decisions they make.”
McIlroy is not in the Scottish Open field, the only player inside the top 15 in the world who didn’t make the trip to Renaissance Club. He is scheduled to speak to the media at 4 a.m. ET Tuesday at St. Andrews.