Rory McIlroy has known abject humiliation in his golf career. He stood alone in the pines alongside Augusta National’s 10th hole in 2011 as his Masters lead evaporated. He could only watch as Cam Smith blazed past him in 2022 at St. Andrews in an Open Championship that was McIlroy’s for the taking. Never has McIlroy been humiliated like he was Tuesday.
After a year and a half of caping for the PGA Tour and commissioner Jay Monahan, a year and a half of serving as the point of the spear, McIlroy had to just sit and watch as the PGA Tour cut a deal with the opposition. The PGA Tour and the Saudi Public Investment Fund have agreed to join forces in a new, as-yet-unspecified endeavor, and McIlroy was as surprised as the rest of the golf world.
Speaking on Wednesday morning before the RBC Canadian Open, McIlroy walked through both the sequence of events Tuesday and his overall perspective on the seismic, permanent changes that flipped golf on its head.
"It's hard for me not to sit up here and feel somewhat like a sacrificial lamb,” McIlroy said. He was notified at 6:30 a.m. of the impending merger, just a few hours before it became public news.
McIlroy tried to find some daylight between the PIF, which already bankrolls multiple tournaments, companies and endeavors in which McIlroy is involved, and LIV Golf, the upstart tour that’s spent more time beefing in public with McIlroy and others than actually playing tournaments.
“I’ve come to terms with [the PIF],” McIlroy said. “I see what’s happened in other sports, I see what’s happened in other businesses, and honestly I’ve just resigned myself to the fact that this is what’s going to happen.”
McIlroy also sided with Monahan, at least to the extent that he appreciates the structure of the new endeavor as it was announced. "Whether you like it or not, the PIF were going to keep spending the money in golf. At least the PGA Tour now controls how that money is spent," he said. "If you're thinking about one of the biggest sovereign wealth funds in the world, would you rather have them as a partner or an enemy? At the end of the day, money talks and you would rather have them as a partner."
As for LIV itself, there was no gray area, no equivocation.
“I still hate LIV. I hate them,” McIlroy said. “I hope it goes away.”
McIlroy's resigned acceptance of the PIF's incursion didn't include acceptance of the LIV defectors. He wasn't quite ready to extend them any courtesies. "There still has to be consequences to actions," he said. "The people that left the PGA Tour irreparably harmed this Tour, started litigation against it. We can't just welcome them back in. Like, that's not going to happen. And I think that was the one thing that Jay was trying to get across yesterday is like, guys, we're not just going to bring these guys back in and pretend like nothing's happened. That is not going to happen."
Still, above and beyond who makes up a given tournament field, there's an inevitability grinding away here. Sounding like a man watching a tidal wave approach, McIlroy acknowledged the reality of the situation while holding out a faint, perhaps irrational, hope that maybe everything would work out.
“It’s very hard to keep up with people that have more money than anyone else,” McIlroy said. “And if they’re going to put that money into the game of golf, then why don’t we partner with them and make sure that it’s done in the right way?”
McIlroy has spent a lifetime staying loyal to the PGA Tour. But loyalty doesn’t fill bank accounts. McIlroy is, by nature, an optimist. But even the PGA Tour’s strongest, most eloquent defender is struggling to rationalize Tuesday’s events as anything more than a money grab, loyalty be damned.