As the LIV Golf Tour is set to kick off outside London on Thursday, Rory McIlroy is more than 3,000 miles away, preparing for a title defense at the RBC Canadian Open which has been brewing for two year.
The Canadian Open, one of golf’s oldest national championships, is back this year after a two-year absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic. McIlroy is the defending champion, technically, after his stirring final round 61 to win in 2019.
McIlroy met the media on Wednesday, but the tenor of the press conference was not typical of a past achievement. The future of professional golf is at a crossroads and McIlroy had to fix it.
Across the pond, 48 players gathered for the inaugural LIV Invitational Series event, with the new league offering $25 million in prize money, 54-hole shotgun tee times and a format of crew. Some of the participants are household names: Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia. Many are not. It’s the first of eight events scheduled for this year, with better-known names including Bryson DeChambeau set to join the series.
It was McIlroy who first publicly rejected the Saudis in 2020, saying he wanted to be “on the right side of history”. It was McIlroy who declared the upstart league “dead in the water” in February when a wave of players pledged their loyalty to the PGA Tour. And it was McIlroy who was tasked on Wednesday, on the eve of the LIV’s first round, with contextualizing this tenuous moment in the game’s history.
“For the game in general, it’s just a shame that it fractures the game,” he said. “The professional game is the showcase of golf. If the general public doesn’t know who’s playing where and what tournament is happening this week, and OK, they’re not getting into those events – it gets so confusing. I think everything has to try to become more cohesive, and I think it was on a pretty good trajectory until that happened.
McIlroy’s support for the Tour – and his position on the Saudi-backed circuit – has been very clear. But he reiterated it anyway on Wednesday.
“It’s not something I want to be involved in,” he said of LIV Golf. “I certainly understand the guys who left. I understand what their goals and ambitions are in their lives. I certainly don’t hit anyone for going. It’s their life, it’s their decision, and they can live it any way they want. But for me, I want to play on the PGA Tour against the best players in the world. …
“Any decision you make in your life that is purely for money usually doesn’t end up in a good way. Obviously, money is a deciding factor in a lot of things in this world, but if it’s only for the money, it never seems to go the way you want it to.
McIlroy was referring to reported nine-figure sums some of LIV’s headliners are set to receive in their multi-year deals and significant guaranteed paydays for the rest of the participants. The LIV is led by Greg Norman and supported by the Saudi 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 goes and if any other guys decide to go in another direction than the established tours and see what the consequences are,” did he declare. “I can only speak personally, but it’s not something I plan to do. I’m happy to play on the PGA Tour and I have a good program that I can choose myself. I can spend a lot of time at home with my family if I want to, prioritize majors, and there’s nothing in my schedule, my life, my income, or anything that I would change.
In his final start before the US Open, McIlroy teeed off at 7:13 a.m. ET Thursday alongside PGA Champion Justin Thomas and Canadian Corey Conners.