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Rory McIlroy regrets being 'too judgemental' of LIV defectors, but asks they 'don't try to burn the place down' on way out

January 03, 2024
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Andrew Redington

Rory McIlroy has softened his stance against PGA Tour pros who have left for LIV Golf. However, the four-time major champ is still disappointed with how the battle for pro golf supremacy is being waged.

In an interview with the Stick to Football podcast, McIlroy had a lot to say on the current state of the game. That included reflecting on his own position during the past two years in which he became a leading spokesman for PGA Tour loyalty and a staunch critic of the upstart circuit.

"I’ve gone through the last two years with this altruistic approach where I’ve looked at the world the way I’ve wanted to see it," McIlroy said in the interview. "Ultimately, you can say what you want and do what you want, but at the end of the day, you’re not going to be able to change peoples’ minds. You’re never going to make them decide based on what you say. 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."

McIlroy added he wishes LIV could have come about without causing such "massive upheaval" and doesn't think the exorbitant contracts being handed out is in the best interest of the game. Mostly, though, he worries about the fractured nature that now exists at the top of the sport.

"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," McIlroy said. "So if you start dividing the eyeballs in professional golf, it’s not good for anyone."

You can watch McIlroy's entire interview here:

McIlroy took a step back from this ongoing fight when he resigned from the PGA Tour policy board in November. While he said in his latest interview that this was more about a time commitment and wanting to focus on his game, he and other players were also shocked, frustrated and even upset when the tour entered into that surprise agreement with the LIV Golf’s backer, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. (The two entities continue to negotiate.)

That news coupled with Jon Rahm's LIV signing in December has McIlroy feeling differently about players leaving the PGA Tour. And he even regrets some of what he said.

"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. "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 reiterated that Rahm should continue to be a part of the European Ryder Cup team, which is a change from his previous stance siding with the DP World Tour's rules that all but eliminated LIV players from competing in the biennial event.

"I thought it was a smart business move from Jon … it’s opportunistic," McIlroy said. "I think he sees that things will come back together, and he’s in a lucky position. 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?"

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Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm celebrate on the 18th green at Marco Simone after Europe clinched the victory in the 2023 Ryder Cup last September.

Jamie Squire

That being said, McIlroy thinks there's a certain way people should go about making the transition to the upstart league.

"At the end of the day, we’re professional golfers and we play to make a living and make money, so I understand it," McIlroy said. "Especially some of these guys that were on the back end of their career. I don’t begrudge anyone for going and taking the money and doing something different, but don’t try to burn the place down on your way out. That is my attitude towards it because some people are happy playing in the existing structure and that’s totally fine, too. But I think it’s just created this division that will hopefully stop soon because I think it’s the best thing for golf too."

McIlroy isn't a fan of LIV's format, but he could envision a period of the season involving team play going forward, comparing it to how the Indian Premier League in cricket is structured. He also admitted that LIV has "exposed the flaws" of the PGA Tour.

"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," McIlroy said. "I can’t believe the PGA Tour has done so well for so long."

McIlroy is not playing in this week's Sentry at Kapalua (nor is the defending champ, Rahm, after being suspended by the PGA Tour), the first event of the PGA Tour's 2024 schedule. He is expected to start his season later this month at the Dubai Desert Classic on the DP World Tour.