With the LIV Golf circuit about to launch Thursday outside London, Rory McIlroy is more than 3,000 miles away, readying for a title defense at the RBC Canadian Open that’s two years in the making.
The Canadian Open, one of the oldest national championships in golf, is back this year after a two-year absence because of the COVID-19 pandemic. McIlroy is the defending champion, technically, after his stirring final-round 61 to win in 2019.
McIlroy met with the media Wednesday, but the tenor of the press conference wasn’t the typical reflection of a past accomplishment. The future of professional golf is at a crossroads, and McIlroy needed to address it.
Across the pond, 48 players have gathered for the inaugural LIV Invitational Series event, the new league offering $25 million purses, 54-hole shotgun starts and a team format. Some of the entrants are household names: Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia. Many are not. It’s the first of eight events planned this year, with more high-profile names, including Bryson DeChambeau, expected to join the series.
It was McIlroy who first publicly spurned the Saudis back in 2020, saying that he wanted to be “on the right side of history.” It was McIlroy who declared the upstart league “dead in the water” this February when a wave of players pledged their loyalty to the PGA Tour. And it was McIlroy who was tasked Wednesday, on the eve of the LIV’s opening round, with contextualizing this tenuous moment in the game’s history.
“For the game in general, it’s just a shame that it’s going to fracture the game,” he said. “The professional game is the window shop into golf. If the general public is confused about who is playing where, and what tournament is on this week, and OK, he doesn’t get into these events – it just becomes so confusing. I think everything needs to try to become more cohesive, and I think it was on a pretty good trajectory until this happened.”
McIlroy’s support for the Tour – and his position on the Saudi-backed tour – has been abundantly clear. But he reiterated it anyway on Wednesday.
“It’s not something that I want to participate in,” he said of LIV Golf. “I certainly understand the guys that have went. I understand what their goals and their ambitions are in their life. I’m certainly not knocking anyone for going. It’s their life, it’s their decision, and they can live it the way they want. But for me, I want to play on the PGA Tour against the best players in the world. …
“Any decision that you make in your life that’s purely for money usually doesn’t end up going the right way. Obviously, money is a deciding factor in a lot of things in this world, but if it’s purely for money, it never seems to go the way you want it to.”
McIlroy was referring to the reported nine-figure sums that some of the LIV headliners are set to receive in their multi-year agreements and significant guaranteed paydays for the rest of the participants. The LIV is fronted by Greg Norman and backed by the Saudi Arabian government’s Public Investment Fund.
“It’s a weird time in professional golf, and we’re just going to have to see how this season plays out and if any other guys decide to go another direction than the established tours and see what the consequences are,” he said. “I can only speak personally, but it’s not something that I envision ever doing. I’m happy playing the PGA Tour, and I have a nice schedule that I can pick for myself. I can spend a lot of time at home with my family if I want to, prioritize the majors, and there’s nothing about my schedule or my life or my earnings or anything that I would change.”
In his final start before the U.S. Open, McIlroy tees off at 7:13 a.m. ET Thursday alongside PGA champion Justin Thomas and Canadian Corey Conners.