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Rory McIlroy’s frosty response to Patrick Reed in Dubai has a backstory that includes a Christmas Eve subpoena; Reed fires back

January 25, 2023
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Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy playing together in better times during the 2022 Memorial Tournament.

Andy Lyons

DUBAI, U.A.E. — Rory McIlroy has participated in many press conferences during his professional life. And in those public chats he has commented on and explained many things. But this time, on the eve of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Club, what the World No. 1 didn’t say was perhaps far more significant than what he did utter. More than once, in fact, McIlroy was mute in response to questions.

A two-time winner of this DP World Tour event—what was his first win as a professional in 2009 and one where he has finished in the top-10 in each of his last 10 visits to the United Arab Emirate he called home for four years—McIlroy was provoked into silence by a follow-up question to his explanation of what actually transpired between he and Patrick Reed on the practice range two days earlier.

Various (and vague) reports had emerged suggesting McIlroy had snubbed Reed’s attempted handshake, a move that had provoked the American reportedly into throwing a tee in the Irishman’s direction. Or merely to the ground in frustration at McIlroy’s reluctance to engage, depending on what (if anything) you believe in this mini-saga.

“I didn't see it,” was McIlroy’s initial response. “Patrick came up to say hello and I didn't really want him to. That was it. I didn't see a tee. I didn't feel a tee. Obviously someone else saw that. I can't believe it's actually turned into a story. It's nothing.

“I was down by my bag, and he came up to me,” McIlroy attempted to explain. “I was busy working and sort of doing my practice. I didn't really feel like … I didn't feel the need to acknowledge him. And if roles were reversed and I'd thrown that tee at him, I'd be expecting a lawsuit. So no, I didn't see, it. My back was turned to him.”

McIlroy’s reluctance to chat with Reed, to whom he lost an epic Ryder Cup singles match at Hazeltine National in 2016, is understandable, as he went on to explain.

“I got a subpoena on Christmas Eve,” said McIlroy, receiving it from an attorney who is representing Reed in a handful of anti-defamation cases against members of the golf media. The subpoena given to McIlroy, however, is believed to be part of a separate case not involving Reed that alleges that McIlroy, Davis Love III and Tiger Woods are co-conspirators in the PGA Tour’s antitrust scheme to destroy the LIV Golf League.

“I was trying to have a nice time with my family. If someone shows up on your doorstep and delivers that, you're not going to take that well. I'm living in reality. I don't know where he [Reed] is living. If I were in his shoes, I wouldn't expect a hello or a handshake. I don't see how you can pretend like nothing's happening.”

It was then that the follow-up sympathetic to Reed’s supposed point of view—“He just turned his back, had a tee from his pocket and threw it down in disgust, as probably anyone would do when you approach someone and don't get an answer.”—was asked. Could Rory see a time when bridges between the two could be mended?

The transcript of the press conference is blank at this point, saying only that McIlroy had adopted an “incredulous facial expression.” Which, for once in this nonsensical saga, is absolutely 100 percent accurate.

When Reed was found on Wednesday and asked to tell his side of the story, he noted that he hadn’t seen McIlroy or his caddie Harry Diamond yet this year so he wanted to say hello. “Because of the relationship I've had with Rory … let's be honest, we've had some great battles at Augusta and other tournaments and our friendships been pretty good up until obviously joining LIV," Reed told the Daily Mail.

Reed continued by saying Harry shook his hand but Rory just looked down there and was messing with his Trackman (device) and kind of decided to ignore us. We all know where it came from—being part of LIV. Since my tees are Team Aces LIV tees I flicked him one. It was kind of a funny shot back. Funny how a small little flick has turned into basically me stabbing him and throwing a tee at him.

"He saw me and he decided not to not to react," Reed told the Daily Mail. "It's unfortunate because we've always had a good relationship … But it is one of those things—if you're going to act like an immature little child then you might as well be treated like one.”

Moving right along, McIlroy was on more familiar ground when asked about the recent departure of various LIV Golf officials and the impact that has on LIV CEO Greg Norman’s position. McIlroy has been one of the Australian’s more vocal critics over the past few months, going so far as suggesting he should be removed from his post.

“If the Chief Executive doesn't have an executive team, I don't know how strong that is,” said McIlroy.

So that is some kind of weakness?

“Yeah, he can't do it himself,” McIlroy said. “He needs to rely on a team just like all of us rely on teams, to do things. When you start operating solo, it starts to get pretty difficult.”

Which was all he had to say on that subject. As McIlroy went on to acknowledge, the time and effort he had expended as a de facto spokesman for the establishment in its battle with LIV had left him a bit short of puff by the end of 2022. Hence his desire to “put down the clubs for a few weeks” over the holiday period.

“On reflection, I felt like I needed to take on quite a lot last year,” he said. “But getting the wheels in motion of how hopefully the new system and the new, I keep calling it a product, structure of professional golf took a lot of effort last year. But now those wheels are in motion. We just have to try to tidy up the schedule for 2024. But most of the heavy lifting was done last year. We still have quite a bit of work to do, but hopefully this year it won't be quite as taxing.”

McIlroy then went to offer fulsome praise for the incredible run of form being enjoyed by his Ryder Cup teammate, Jon Rahm. The Spaniard has won four of his last six tournaments, including his last two starts on the PGA Tour.

“We all know Jon is one of the best players in the world, whether there's a 1 [ranking] beside his name or a 2 beside his name, it doesn't really matter,” said McIlroy. “He's playing some of the best golf he's played in his career. He's not had a long career but all of his career, but he's played consistently at a very, very high level. He’s shot 27 under in both of his tournaments this year. That's pretty impressive.”

All of which left time for just one last question, this time related to another Spaniard, Sergio Garcia. On Monday, DP World Tour chief executive Keith Pelley revealed that Garcia’s honorary member status means he is (technically) eligible for one of Luke Donald’s six European captain’s picks for this year’s Ryder Cup in Italy. Would that be a way to mend the currently fractured relationship between McIlroy and Garcia?

“No,” was the Irishman’s brief response.

“No way?” persisted the questioner.

(Shaking head, no) wrote the transcriber, neatly summing up McIlroy’s clear wish to move on. Which is what we all need to do from this storm in a tee tantrum. Especially right now, golf deserves better than tittle-tattle.