McIlroy Eases Off LIV Criticism, Compliments Rahm’s Move

KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — Rory McIlroy has gone from being the harshest critic of LIV Golf to extending an olive branch. He said on a British soccer podcast Wednesday he was too judgmental about players defecting and has accepted that LIV is “part of our sport now.”

He referred to Jon Rahm’s decision to join LIV Golf last month as a “smart business move.”

McIlroy also suggested he helped instigate discussions with the PGA Tour and the Saudi backers of LIV Golf. He said he met with Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of the Public Investment Fund, at the end of 2022 in Dubai.

“When I got back to America, I was on the board of the PGA Tour and I said to the guys, ‘Someone has got to go talk to this guy.’ Then there was a plan put in place that one of the board members would try to develop a relationship with him,” McIlroy said.

He said on the “Stick to Football” podcast the surprise was how quickly a deal came together. Board member Jimmy Dunne and chairman Ed Herlihy arranged the first meeting after the Masters in April.

The PGA Tour and PIF announced the agreement for a commercial deal on June 6.

The podcast was posted a day before the PGA Tour begins a new year that includes eight “signature events” with limited fields and $20 million purses, a model that McIlroy helped orchestrate over the last year.

He resigned from the policy board in November, saying it was taking up too much of his time. The framework agreement missed its Dec. 31 deadline to get finalized, and now the PGA Tour also is negotiating with a private group of U.S. investors.

McIlroy referred to early defections to LIV as players wanting to take the easy way out, and said that players were being duplicitous for pledging support and then taking the Saudi cash.

He had said no peace could be made as long as Greg Norman was in charge, and as recently as July said he “hates” LIV and hoped it went away. “If LIV Golf was the last place to play golf on Earth, I would retire. That’s how I feel about it,” he said in July.

His tone began to soften when Rahm, the Masters champion, became arguably the biggest name to leave, because the 29-year-old Spaniard is entering the peak of his career.

“I think, at this point, 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 on the podcast.

“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.”

McIlroy said his biggest beef is players leaving and speaking poorly about the PGA Tour or European tour because that’s what gave players their start in the game.

He also said the tour’s deal announced June 6 legitimized what LIV is trying to do and “made it easier for guys to jump.”

“Jon Rahm has not got any of the heat that the first guys got for going,” McIlroy said. “I think Jon, he’s smart. And I think he sees things coming together at some point. … I thought it was a smart business move. It was opportunistic.”

And because Rahm is exempt in all the majors for five years or more, McIlroy said, there was little risk of the Masters champion leaving.

“I have no problem with Jon going if that’s what he wants to do,” McIlroy said. “Who am I to say different?”

McIlroy said while he doesn’t feel he “lost the fight” against LIV, he has accepted that it is part of the sport. He says if anything, the concept of LIV Golf has exposed flaw in the tour system because the rival league guarantees all its stars will be at tournaments.

PGA Tour players can pick and choose where they play. McIlroy, for example, is the only eligible player not at Kapalua for the season-opening tournament. He says the PGA Tour is raising the cost to sponsor tournaments without being able to guarantee who will play.

Wells Fargo already has said it would no longer sponsor the signature event at Quail Hollow Club in North Carolina after this year.

“I can’t believe the PGA Tour has done so well for so long,” he said.