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Rory McIlroy: 'It's hard for me … not to feel like a sacrificial lamb' after the PGA Tour-Saudi deal

June 07, 2023
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Vaughn Ridley

Rory McIlroy has served as the de facto face of the PGA Tour in its battle with LIV Golf, standing up for his tour in the absence of leadership and doing so because he believed it was the right thing to do. He also has admitted that putting himself out there in the game’s civil war took an emotional and physical toll, one he’s still reckoning with.

To those who sensed that McIlroy might be feeling betrayed after Tuesday’s stunning announcement between the tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, well, you’re right.

“It's hard for me to not sit up here and feel somewhat like a sacrificial lamb and feeling like I've put myself out there and this is what happens.” McIlroy said Wednesday at the RBC Canadian Open.

McIlroy, who spearheaded a player-led initiative that restructured and saved the PGA Tour, said he was not informed of the tour’s decision until Tuesday morning and that it wasn’t PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan who told him but PGA Tour board member Jimmy Dunne. When asked if he still had confidence in Monahan, McIlroy took a pause before responding, "I do."

"I've dealt with Jay a lot closer than a lot of those guys have. From where we were a couple of weeks ago to where we are today, I think the future of the PGA Tour looks brighter as a whole, as an entity," McIlroy said. "What that looks like for individual players in terms of keeping a tour card and bringing players back into the fold and then that sacrifices other people, that's where the anger comes from, right. And I understand that."

McIlroy, 34, has been outspoken about the controversial funding of LIV Golf, given the accusations of human-rights atrocities levied at Saudi Arabia. Although McIlroy didn’t back down from that stance, he said he’s come to accept PIF’s role as the tour’s financial partner.

"I've come to terms with it," 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, you know, this is what's going to happen. Like this is -- 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."

Taking himself out of the equation, McIlroy said he does think this deal will benefit the sport and the fans. "I think ultimately, 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, it's going to be good for the game of professional golf. I think it secures the -- it unifies it and it secures its financial future. So there's mixed emotions in there as well, as there's going to be. I don't understand all the intricacies of what's going on. It's a very, what's the word? There's a lot of ambiguity. There's a lot of things still to be sort of thrashed out. But at least it means that the litigation goes away, which has been a massive burden for everyone that's involved with the tour and that's playing the tour. And we can start to work toward some sort of way of unifying the game at the elite level."

McIlroy is the defending champ at this week’s RBC Canadian Open.