Rory McIlroy is in Toronto for, one, the defence of his RBC Canadian Open title and, two, aiming to get his A-game ahead of next week’s US Open at Brookline. And yet, the white noise distraction of something he doesn’t want any part of continues to infiltrate his space; unfortunately for him especially, given the principled stance he has adopted, the start-up LIV Golf Series is a part of the conversation, like it or not.
His eyes may be on again lifting the famous old trophy, this time at St George’s Golf Club rather than at Hamilton where he won in 2019 but due to Covid had to wait until now to defend. But McIlroy couldn’t escape what was happening on the other side of the Atlantic and the timing of the Saudi-backed invitational going head-on against the historic Canadian Open.
“I maybe don’t understand why they chose this date. I understand why they chose the location. It’s sort of goading the PGA Tour into allowing releases for that event. It’s not in the United States, it’s a conflicting event, but we get releases for conflicting events. There’s a lot of things that they have done that don’t make sense to me. It’s very hard for me to put myself in their mind and think things through logically and get to the place where they have gotten to, I guess.
“So, no, yeah, again, for the game in general I think it’s a shame that it’s going to fracture the game,” said McIlroy of how things have unfolded while again insisting that jumping ship was not for him: “For me, I want to play on the PGA Tour against the best players in the world … there’s nothing about my schedule, or my life, or my earning, or anything that I would change.”
He added: “It’s a weird time in professional golf, we’re just going to have to see how this season plays out and if any other guys decide to go another direction than the established tours, I guess see what the consequences are … I just think everyone needs to get in a room and figure it out. I feel like the professional game was on a nice trajectory where it was becoming more cohesive and now it’s becoming more fractured again and I don’t think that’s a good thing.”
Later, he observed: “The competitive integrity of it all just seems to me like it just doesn’t add up. If I am a fan I want to watch the most competitive golfers on the most competitive tour in the world and that is the PGA Tour. So that’s where my hang-up is.”
McIlroy faded back over the weekend at the Memorial last week to ultimately finish in tied-18th but has liked what he has found at St George’s, a classical parkland layout which is old school in so many ways. That is has so many similarities to Brookline – next week’s US Open venue in Massachusetts – has come as a bonus.
“I love it, it’s a great set-up. It’s penal; if you miss the fairways, it’s thick rough. You have to keep the ball below the hole on the greens. It’s a really good golf course. I think as the week progresses, I’ll learn a little bit more about it . But you have got to put it in position off the tee and then you just have to be really smart with your second shots,” observed McIlroy, looking for his second win of the season but first going back to the CJ Cup last October at the start of the wraparound campaign.
With one eye on this and some of his thoughts on the US Open next week, McIlroy – who missed three successive cuts in that Major from 2016-’18 but has gone 9th-8th-7th in the last three – explained:
“The US Open has been a weird one, I went through a few years of not playing well at it and then honestly it has been the Major of the last few years that I have felt the most comfortable at. I didn’t know if it is just my style of game has evolved or being a little bit more conservative off the tee … I just seem to enjoy US Opens a little more than I used to. I know if I go and play my game around Brookline I will hopefully be in the mix come Sunday.
I’m looking forward to this week. The golf course is probably is actually a pretty similar set-up to what its going to be in Boston next week, so playing a tournament but it is decent preparation as well.”