Rory McIlroy says PGA Tour partnership with Saudi PIF will be good for golf

The Northern Irish golfer has mixed emotions over deal and felt like ‘sacrificial lamb’ for defending the tour

Rory McIlroy must wish for a time when his clubs alone do the talking. That time hasn’t come quite yet.

For, as one of the most vocal of those who opposed the arrival of LIV Golf and it’s backing from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth Public Investment Fund (PIF), the Northern Irishman’s acceptance of the PGA Tour’s effective complete U-turn in now partnering with the PIF to form a new commercial entity ensured an inquisition rather than any old standard press conference in Toronto on Wednesday.

Indeed McIlroy described his situation as being akin to that of a “sacrificial lamb,” which might indicate that he – as much as anyone – found the speed of the PGA Tour’s about face in turning PIF from enemy to friend hard to get a handle on.

What should have been a pre-tournament press conference about his own game and a quest for a third straight win in the Canadian Open turned into one dominated by the news of the PGA Tour’s merger alongside the DP World Tour with the PIF, and McIlroy admitted, “It is hypocritical.”


“The one thing I would say is, again, whether you like it or not, the PIF and the Saudis want to spend money in the game of golf. They want to do it and they weren’t going to stop. So, you know, the thing for me, and this is the one thing that I’ve always thought about, how can we get that money into the game but use it the right way and I think that’s what this ultimately will do, hopefully. That’s my hope.”

It may have sounded like splitting hairs to some extent, but McIlroy insisted that there was a distinction between LIV and PIF in this new golf entity (yet to be named) that will see the PGA Tour have the majority say in the use of PIF’s financial investment: “I still hate LIV. Like, I hate LIV. Like, I hope it goes away. And I would fully expect that it does. And I think that’s where the distinction here is. This is the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour and the PIF. Very different from LIV. All I’ve tried to do is to protect what the PGA Tour is and what the PGA Tour stands for.”

There was a rather heated players’ meeting at the Canadian Open venue on Monday night where the PGA Tour’s chief executive Jay Monahan came under pressure from a number of players who felt they had been left in the dark about the developments which ultimately led to the new partnership and many fearful of where their status will be in future tournaments with smaller fields.

“Look, it was heated,” said McIlroy. “People were surprised. People felt like they were in the dark about all this. Most of the gripes come from the guys that are trying to hold onto their cards. And they feel like things have already been taken away from them this year with the designated events and smaller fields and no cuts and weighted FedExCup points for the larger events with the stronger fields.

“So they were already feeling somewhat vulnerable. Then, whenever this news is brought about, there’s only going to be one reaction to that. And I understand that. And, honestly, it’s hard for me to relate to those guys, because I’ve never been in that position. It’s hard for me to relate to them fully, but I certainly empathise with their point of view.”

Monahan revealed a timeline that included secret conversations over a seven-week period, four in-person meetings and a number of video and phone calls.

“I recognise that people are going to call me a hypocrite. Anytime I said anything, I said it with the information that I had at that moment and I said it based on someone that’s trying to compete for the PGA Tour and our players. I accept those criticisms. But circumstances do change. I think that in looking at the big picture and looking at it this way, that’s what got us to this point,” insisted Monahan.

McIlroy gave his own backing to the about-turn by the PGA Tour in now partnering with the PIF: “I’ve come to terms with it. 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 going to happen. It’s very hard to keep up with people that have more money than anyone else. And, again, if they want 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. And that’s sort of where my head’s at.”

While the vast majority of players only learned of the development on Twitter and then news outlets, McIlroy had been given the heads-up by Jimmy Dunne, the New York financier who is on the PGA Tour’s policy board and who will be a director on the new entity when it is formed.

That news was given to McIlroy in an early-morning telephone call. “The way Jimmy described it, ‘Rory, sometimes you got 280 over water, you just got to go for it’,” recalled McIlroy of the golfing analogy used by Dunne. “When I try to remove myself from the situation and I look at the bigger picture and I look at 10 years down the line, I think ultimately this is going to be good for the game of professional golf. It unifies it and it secures its financial future.”

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times