Rory McIlroy has been a vociferous defender of the PGA Tour and European Tour in the seemingly long -- but actually pretty short -- battle with the Saudi-owned LIV Golf.
The four-time major winner has suggested that the genesis for his involvement was partly connected to Greg Norman's connection to the breakaway league as its CEO. However, once he got involved, McIlroy had no problem speaking passionately in public about players who went to LIV Golf and how some of those players trashed the PGA Tour and European Tour on their way out the door.
Ultimately, McIlroy was a key member of the PGA Tour Policy Board until this summer, when he stepped away to focus more on his other personal and professional interests, including TGL and playing professional golf.
With all of that behind him, and with pro golf in a tenuous place at the moment, McIlroy looked back on this two-year run with the "Stick to Football" podcast on Sky Sports. It sounds as though McIlroy has continued to soften some of his views -- at least about the people who went to LIV Golf, even if not the product itself.
"I was maybe a little judgmental of the guys who went to LIV Golf at the start, and I think it was a bit of a mistake on my part because I now realize that not everyone is in my position or in Tiger Woods’ position," McIlroy said, implying that less wealthy players had a different decision than golf's superstar players.
"We all turn professional to make a living playing the sports that we do, and I think that’s what I realized over the last two years. I can’t judge people for making that decision, so if I regret anything, it was probably being too judgmental at the start."
McIlroy doesn't seem bothered by Jon Rahm's move to LIV either. Rahm, who is now a two-time major winner, took a large sum from LIV Golf in December to make a shocking move. McIlroy suggests Rahm took the money with the reasonable gamble that an agreement will be reached soon between the negotiating parties.
"I thought it was a smart business move from Jon – it’s opportunistic. I think he sees that things will come back together and he’s in a lucky position," he said. "There’s not one person that wouldn’t want him on our Ryder Cup team because of how good he is, so he was in a great position where there wasn’t a ton of risk involved for him to go. I’ve got no problem with him going if that’s what he wants to do and he thinks that’s the right decision for him and his family. Who am I to say any different at this point?"
The Ulsterman may have tempered his views on the financial interests behind players' decisions, but he still views the turmoil in a niche sport as a bad thing.
"Some people have taken one side and some people have taken another, and golf is a small enough sport, it’s not like football where you’ve got billions of fans, so if you start dividing the eyeballs in professional golf, it’s not good for anyone," he said.
McIlroy does credit LIV in a strange way for exposing the trouble with the business structure of professional golf, in which sponsors are asked to pony up millions to pay for attaching their names to events that do not get a guarantee of which players will compete.
"I think what LIV has done, it’s exposed the flaws in the system of what golf has, because we’re all supposed to be independent contractors and we can pick and choose what tournaments we want to play," he said. "But I think what LIV and the Saudis have exposed is that you’re asking for millions of dollars to sponsor these events, and you’re not able to guarantee to the sponsors that the players are going to show up. I can’t believe the PGA Tour has done so well for so long."
With Saudi Public Investment Fund governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan leading LIV and pushing to keep team golf in the professional golf ecosystem, McIlroy would hope that the LIV Golf concept gets absorbed into the golf calendar as its own niche in the golf calendar.
"What I would love LIV to turn into is almost like the Indian Premier League of golf," he said. "The IPL in cricket, they take two months during the calendar -- you have four weeks in May and four weeks in November, and you go and do this team stuff. It’s a bit different, and it’s a different format. If they were to do something like that, I think that sounds like fun – you’re at least working within the ecosystem."
McIlroy goes on to say that he doesn't regret going public about LIV Golf but knows that this turmoil is not going anywhere, even with an agreement between the PGA Tour, European Tour and Saudi Public Investment Fund.
He said, "I wouldn’t say I’ve lost the fight against LIV, but I’ve just accepted the fact that this is part of our sport now."