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Saudi Golf League

Rory McIlroy says Saudi league is ‘dead in the water’ with latest player moves: 'Who's left?'

February 20, 2022

Cliff Hawkins

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Rory McIlroy harshly criticized Phil Mickelson’s controversial comments regarding the PGA Tour and the rumored Saudi-backed golf league, calling them “naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant.”

After shooting three-under 68 on Sunday to creep into the top 10 at the Genesis Invitational, McIlroy was asked a number of questions about the topic that has dominated conversation this week. On Monday, tour player Kramer Hickok claimed 17 players had already signed up for the league. Then Mickelson’s comments, given to Alan Shipnuck as part of an interview for his upcoming biography on Lefty, dropped on Thursday. Mickelson called the Saudi Arabians funding the proposed league “scary motherf—-ers,” referred to the PGA Tour as a “dictatorship,” accused commissioner Jay Monahan of not doing the right thing unless he’s forced to and claimed to have recruited players and lawyers to draft up the league to create leverage and enact change on the PGA Tour.

“I don’t want to kick someone while he’s down obviously,” McIlroy said, “but I thought they were naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant. A lot of words to describe that interaction he had with Shipnuck. It was just very surprising and disappointing, sad. I’m sure he’s sitting at home sort of rethinking his position and where he goes from here.”

McIlroy’s words came hours after Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, who were considered prime targets for the upstart league, both committed their futures to the PGA Tour. To McIlroy, who serves on the PGA Tour’s policy board, those announcements have greatly diminished the threat of the possible rival league.

“Who’s left? Who’s left to go? I mean, there’s no one. It’s dead in the water in my opinion. I just can’t see any reason why anyone would go … I mean, Greg Norman [CEO of LIV Golf, the group pushing the SGL] would have to tee it up to fill the field. Like, I mean seriously? I mean, who else is going to do it? I don’t think they could get 48 guys.”

McIlroy said he was never truly worried about the Saudi league upending the world of professional golf because of poor leadership choices and never having Tiger Woods’ blessing—but he’s relieved to, at least in his opinion, have it now in the rearview mirror.

“I knew the way these guys have operated and it’s all been smoke and mirrors and they’ve created rumors and spread rumors and tried to play one guy off another and said one thing to one manager and said a different thing to another manager and just sort of created this chaos and confusion around that group, and everyone’s questioning everyone else’s motives so they’re just kind of playing everyone off one another. I think it’s nice now that we all can sit down and say, look, we’re all on the same page here.”