- Rory McIlroy called out players that left the PGA Tour for LIV Golf at his press conference ahead of the US Open.
- McIlroy said that he saw many of those making the jump as “taking the easy way out.”
- As the PGA Tour faces its first true challenge in decades, McIlroy has been the Tour’s greatest spokesman.
Rory McIlory stepped up to the podium ahead of this week’s US Open with a lot to say.
With the golf world on the verge of splitting in two in the wake of the emergence of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series, McIlroy has positioned himself as the greatest spokesman the PGA Tour has on its roster.
McIlroy let his play speak for itself on Sunday, winning on the back of an absolutely astounding final round at the RBC Canadian Open, holding off a charge from Justin Thomas to retain his title at the event.
But even though his play spoke the loudest on Sunday, McIlroy couldn’t resist getting a shot in at LIV while he had the spotlight.
“This is a day I’ll remember for a long, long time,” McIlroy said. “Twenty-first PGA Tour win, one more than someone else — that gave me a little extra incentive today and happy to get it done.”
Former PGA Tour pro-turned-LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman finished his playing career with 20 career wins.
But on Tuesday at his press conference ahead of the US Open, McIlroy went further.
After saying a few months ago that LIV was “dead in the water” in the wake of Phil Mickelson’s controversial comments on the league, McIlroy was asked what he had gotten wrong in his assessment, given that LIV had now hosted its first event and appeared to be gaining some momentum by converting more PGA Tour players.
“I guess I took a lot of players’ statements at face value,” McIlory said. “I guess that’s what I got wrong.”
“You had people committed to the PGA Tour, and that’s what the statements that were put out. People went back on that, so I guess I took them for face value. I took them at their word, and I was wrong.”
After Mickelson’s comments went public in February, several players that had been closely linked to LIV Golf, most notably Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, put out statements pledging their allegiance to the PGA Tour.
“Over the past several months, there has been a great deal of speculation about an alternative tour, much of which seems to have included me and my future in professional golf,” Dustin Johnson wrote at the time. “I feel it is now time to put such speculation to rest. I am fully-committed to the PGA Tour.”
“I want to make it very clear that as long as the best players in the world are playing the PGA Tour, so will I,” DeChambeau wrote in February.
Both of these statements proved false, as both Johnson and DeChambeau are now committed to LIV Golf. While McIlroy didn’t call out Johnson and DeChambeau by name, his comment was clear enough.
McIlroy didn’t stop there.
“I just think for a lot of the guys that are going to play that are younger, sort of similar age to me or a little younger than me, it seems like quite short-term thinking, and they’re not really looking at the big picture,” McIlroy said.
Even more directly, McIlroy was asked if he had lost respect for some of the players that had decided to join LIV, as it was a tacit admission that they could no longer compete on the PGA Tour. While McIlroy was visibly mulling over the question for quite a few seconds, he couldn’t think of a way of answering anything but, “Yes.”
“A lot of these guys are in their late 40s. In Phil’s case, early 50s. Yeah, I think everyone in this room, and they would say to you themselves that their best days are behind them,” McIlroy said.
“That’s why I don’t understand for the guys that are a similar age to me going because I would like to believe that my best days are still ahead of me, and I think theirs are too. So that’s where it feels like you’re taking the easy way out.”
The PGA Tour is lucky to have McIlroy offering such a strong retort against players leaving for LIV, because as things stand, harsh words and a reliance on legacy are really the only weapons in the Tour’s arsenal to keep players from making the jump.
While there’s a lot of money to be made on the PGA Tour, when put up against the bottomless pockets of the Saudi government, the winner is clear.
Further, LIV Golf doesn’t need to turn a profit, as the investment is ostensibly being made for its potential cultural returns rather than financial ones. Going up against a competing golf league that both has more money to burn and is not beholden to market forces is no easy task.
For now, it feels as though the immediate future of golf might be destined to split in two. LIV Golf is here, and with the first players to make the jump taking the harshest brunt of the criticism, chances are more talented players will continue to follow given the money at stake. Meanwhile, the PGA Tour will carry on, missing some core pieces but with plenty of talent to continue to fill its fields week after week.
“The PGA Tour was created by people and Tour players that came before us, the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer,” McIlroy said. “They created something and worked hard for something, and I hate to see all the players that came before us and all the hard work that they’ve put in just come out to be nothing.”