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Rory McIlroy: ‘Too judgmental’ of players leaving for LIV

Competing tours turning golf world 'inside out'
The Golf Central team discusses how golf tour negotiations are affecting the golf world and react to Rory McIlroy's latest comments explaining his position.

Rory McIlroy said on a recent podcast that he’s been too judgmental of the players who left for LIV Golf and has come to accept that Saudi involvement is now part of the sport.

In a wide-ranging interview on the “Stick to Football” podcast that touched on everything from Jon Rahm’s departure to his own meeting with Saudi Public Investment Fund governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan, McIlroy said that the LIV model “exposed the flaws” in the PGA Tour’s system.

“I think, at this point, I was maybe a little judgmental on the guys who went to LIV Golf at the start, and I think it was a bit of a mistake on my part because I now realize that not everyone is in my position or in Tiger Woods’ position,” McIlroy said on the podcast. “We all turn professional to make a living playing the sports that we do, and I think that’s what I realized over the last two years. I can’t judge people for making that decision.”

McIlroy, who has been one of LIV’s most vocal critics since the rival league launched in summer 2022, said that Rahm bolting for LIV was a “smart business move” given both the current climate with the Tour and PIF working toward a definitive agreement and the Spaniard’s status as a major champion who is exempt for at least the next five years.

“I think he sees that things will come back together and he’s in a lucky position,” McIlroy said.

As a member of the policy board, McIlroy has helped incorporate some of the changes to the new Tour structure, including the addition of the signature events that feature guaranteed fields and massive purses. But he also lamented how the introduction of LIV has created an unsustainable business model in which Tour sponsors can’t keep pace with Saudi riches.

“I think what LIV has done, it’s exposed the flaws in the system of what golf has, because we’re all supposed to be independent contractors and we can pick and choose what tournaments we want to play,” he said. “But I think what LIV and the Saudis have exposed is that you’re asking for millions of dollars to sponsor these events, and you’re not able to guarantee to the sponsors that the players are going to show up. I can’t believe the PGA Tour has done so well for so long.”

McIlroy met with Al-Rumayyan at the end of 2022, an initial conversation that may have played a role in the eventual June 6 agreement between the two warring sides. When he returned to the U.S. at beginning of 2023, McIlroy said, “‘I said to the guys, ‘Someone has got to go talk to this guy.’ So then there was a plan put in place that one of the board members would try to develop a relationship with him, see if we can try to figure something out and we can all move forward together.

“So I knew that there was conversations being had, but I didn’t know that it would happen so quickly. Then obviously on June 6, a framework agreement was announced, and a lot of players were angered by it because they were completely blindsided by it.”

McIlroy resigned from the board late last year, with Jordan Spieth assuming his position.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve lost the fight against LIV, but I’ve just accepted the fact that this is part of our sport now,” McIlroy said. “Competition is good to help improve the sport of golf overall, but the PGA Tour competing with LIV and the Saudis’ money is completely unsustainable. You’re never going to win a fight if you’re going money for money, because we’ve seen that in other sports where no one is spending money like the Saudis.”

The end result of a potential Tour-PIF partnership is still to be determined, but the Tour said on Dec. 31 that it was working to extend the deadline to reach a final agreement to create a new for-profit entity. The Tour is also in the final stages of negotiations to form a partnership with a private-equity group headlined by Fenway Sports Group.

McIlroy is skipping the 2024 PGA Tour debut at Kapalua, but he will begin his season next week at the European tour’s Dubai Invitational.