The PGA Tour and LIV Golf merger has certainly thrown a spanner in the works of those fighting for the side of the US golf organisation, none more so than for Rory McIlroy.
The four-time major winner was recently a guest on the Gary Neville-hosted ‘The Overlap: Stick To Football’ podcast, where he admits to being bothered by comments made by LIV golfers once making the switch from the PGA and European tours.
McIlroy said: “The one thing that’s bothered me is we’ve all grown up playing on the European Tour, PGA Tour and that’s given us a platform to grow our profile.
“When people have played that for say 15-20 years and now they’ve jumped to LIV and start talking crap about where they’ve come from, that bothers me because you wouldn’t be in this position if you didn’t have what you have now coming up.”
Since LIV Golf’s inception in 2021, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan immediately went on the offensive against the Saudi Public Investment Fund-backed golf tour, stating that any players who switched over would be permanently banned from any PGA Tour activity.
This did not stop high-profile players such as Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Ian Poulter from joining LIV Golf, attracted by the large sums of guaranteed money being tabled, which McIlroy even admitted is not sustainable for the PGA to compete with.
However, McIlroy admitted that what LIV Golf has done is expose a flaw in the system that the PGA and European Tours have had to react to, by ramping up efforts to attain more guaranteed money through sponsorships – as well as new investment opportunities – to stop players from jumping to the new golf league.
“What I’ve always believed is that golf is a meritocracy, that you rise up the ranks and you are rewarded accordingly. What LIV has done in a way is expose the flaws of the system, because we are all supposed to be independent contractors and we can pick and choose what tournaments we can play,” shared McIlroy.
“What LIV and the Saudis have exposed is that if you have a tour and you’re asking sponsors for millions of dollars to sponsor and you are not able to guarantee those sponsors to players, it’s hard for the players to go and show up.
“It’s created this massive upheaval in professional golf, which has been sad to see. Some people have taken one side and some people the other, and golf’s a small enough sport, if you start dividing the eyeballs it’s no good for anyone.”
The 34-year-old also quelled any notion of tension between himself and Ryder Cup teammate Jon Rahm, who became the most recent golfer to make the transition over to LIV Golf earning a reported £450m.
Rahm’s switch came as a shock to the golfing world as he previously subtly criticised those who transitioned from the PGA Tour, but McIlroy believes the 2023 Masters winner is “smart” and in a “lucky position” due to making the move over to LIV following the announcement of the PGA-LIV merger.
He said: “This whole framework agreement and merger news back in June, what happened was the tours legitimised what LIV was trying to do, so it made it easier for guys.
“Rahm has not got any of the heat that the first guys got for going. So it made it easier for guys to go over. He’s smart and I think he sees coming together at some point. I thought it was quite a smart business move, he sees that things will come back together.
“He’s in a lucky position, he’s exempt from all the majors, there’s not one person who would not want him on our Ryder Cup team because of how good he is, so he’s in a great position where there isn’t so much risk involved, but I have no problem with Jon going if that’s what he wants to do.”
Whilst the groundbreaking news of the PGA-LIV merger, along with the DW Tour, last June sent shockwaves across the golfing and sports world, it raised more questions than answers as to what it may entail.
Commissioner Monahan retracted his previous statement on LIV golfers being barred from the PGA Tour, enabling them to now compete in it and the European Tour.
The merger has also coincided with the latest news of the PGA’s efforts in bringing in outside investment, holding talks with Strategic Sports Group over investing in the golfing organisation, with LIV also potentially becoming another investor in some capacity.
The PGA sent out a memo to players on 10 December noting that its Tour Policy Board was ‘very confident in an eventual, positive outcome for all players and the PGA Tour as a whole’.
Whether it be from Strategic Sports Group, LIV Golf, or wherever, McIlroy implored that he hopes that investment will be focused on growing the game from the grassroots level and not solely for upfront guaranteed contracts for players.
McIlroy also had time to speak on his boyhood support of Manchester United and shared a childhood story of how co-host Roy Keane once snubbed the then 12-year-old of an autograph.