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The path back and the way forward are both murky roads for PGA Tour and LIV players

It’s not Rory McIlroy’s job to tell Jay Monahan the baby’s ugly. That handwringing can come from all corners of social media. But in the wake of arguably the most seminal day in PGA Tour history, it’s worth following the Northern Irishman’s logic on the path forward.

For those who took Tuesday as a mental health day and avoided phones, social media, television and the most casual of conversations, the Tour announced a “framework agreement” with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. The agreement also includes the DP World Tour and LIV Golf, but as McIlroy was quick to point out when he met with the media Wednesday at the RBC Canadian Open, this is not a “merger” between the Tour and LIV Golf.

The truth is, we don’t know exactly what this is, with three notable bullet point items:

No. 1 – The Tour, the PIF and LIV Golf will end its ongoing antitrust litigation in U.S. Circuit Court.

No. 2 – The PIF is poised to invest in a new for-profit entity that may or may not include a team element and currently does not have a name.

No. 3 – Tour players who joined LIV Golf and were suspended by the Tour, some would argue vilified by the Tour, will be allowed to “re-apply for membership” with the PGA Tour and European circuit after this year.

Without anything even close to details, it’s impossible to speculate what a Tour-PIF product will look like and given widespread pushback from players it promises to be a contentious and drawn-out out process. But if finding a secret sauce that will allow the two sides in the most heated back-and-forth in the history of professional golf is going to be difficult to conjure, the path back for those who took the LIV Golf leap seems, at least at the moment, untenable.

“What that looks like for individual players in terms of keeping a Tour card and bringing players back into the fold and then that sacrifices other people, that’s where the anger comes from, right. And I understand that,” McIlroy said. “There still has to be consequences to actions. The people that left the PGA Tour irreparably harmed this Tour, started litigation against it. We can’t just welcome them back in. That’s not going to happen.”

McIlroy’s voice on this issue carries for a number of reasons. He’s a member of the Tour policy board which will decide what the path back looks like for the LIV defectors. He’s also been the most outspoken critic of the breakaway league.

But all that likely misses the most important element to reconciliation. Like many others, McIlroy passed on untold riches from the Saudi-backed league to remain loyal to the PGA Tour. For the record, McIlroy told reporters that he “was never offered any money” by LIV Golf, and while that’s undoubtedly true, it felt like semantics.

McIlroy has been an ardent opponent of LIV Golf and its Saudi backers from the earliest stages, so there was really no reason for league CEO Greg Norman to reach out and check the temperature. However, had McIlroy even hinted at the slightest interest in joining, it’s not difficult to imagine how quickly the Great White Shark would have penned that check.

Now that the Tour and PIF have found common ground and work is underway to provide those who left with a path back, players like McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Scottie Scheffler and countless others must be thinking, “What about me?” For those who didn’t take the LIV Golf payday and remained loyal to the Tour there will be an overwhelming desire to “make this right.”

Late Tuesday, Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was asked about the concept of making those who stayed “whole.”

“Ultimately what you’re talking about is an equalization over time, and I think that’s a fair and reasonable concept,” Monahan said.

Exactly what that looks like remains unknown but as Tuesday’s groundbreaking news unfolded it was the elephant in the crowded room.

“I mean, the simple answer is yes,” McIlroy said when asked if those who remained loyal to the Tour should be made “whole financially.” “The complex answer is how does that happen, right. And that’s all a gray area and up in the air at the minute.

“It’s hard for me to not sit up here and feel somewhat like a sacrificial lamb and feeling like I’ve put myself out there and this is what happens.”

Money can certainly appease any of those who are demanding a pound of flesh, but the other side of this coin is how will those who did take the money and joined LIV Golf, who put their name to the antitrust lawsuit against the Tour and publicly scoffed about their former circuit, be welcomed back?

Will there be punishments and fines and lengthy suspensions for those who joined LIV? Pressed for details, Monahan had no definitive answers which did little to bring down the temperature in the room. If Tuesday’s meeting at the Canadian Open is any indication, Monahan and the Tour should anticipate a healthy amount of skepticism from across the membership.

Blind trust is in short supply these days and a normally ambivalent membership appeared dangerously curious following news of the agreement and what many perceived as an unacceptable amount of secrecy.

“I have a lot of work to do,” a haggard Monahan allowed Tuesday.

He also has a long line of people demanding answers to historically complicated questions.