Rory McIlroy’s press conferences have become appointment viewing for golf fans. Every week he rolls into a new town and gives measured, meditative monologues sprinkled with a charming self-awareness. He seems 53 instead of 33, the wins and the losses and the life events imbuing him with wisdom beyond his years.
And so on Wednesday in Dublin, Ohio, ahead of an event hosted by a legend who occupied a similar leadership position among his own crop of PGA Tour peers, McIlroy handled the latest round of questions about the LIV Golf Series — which finally announced a field for its inaugural event — about the way you’d expect: he was dignified, witty, even a little sympathetic.
“I have some very close friends that are playing in this event in London, and I certainly wouldn’t want to stand in their way, for them to do what they feel is right for themselves,” McIlroy told the assembled press at the Memorial. “It’s not something that I would do personally. But I certainly understand why some of the guys went, and it’s something that we are all just going to keep an eye on and see what happens over these next few weeks.”
Asked for his immediate reaction to the release of the field — which included major champions Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen — McIlroy said he was “indifferent.”
“But I certainly don’t think the field is anything to jump up and down about,” he added. “Look at the field this week [at the Memorial]. Look at the field next week in Canada. They are proper golf tournaments.”
As expected, the Tour stuck by its longstanding position on the matter of rival leagues on Wednesday. There will be no double-dipping. But there will be disciplinary action. Here was the official word from Ponte Vedra Beach:
“As communicated to our entire membership on May 10, PGA Tour members have not been authorized to participate in the Saudi Golf League’s London event, under PGA Tour Tournament Regulations,” read the Tour’s statement. “Members who violate the Tournament Regulations are subject to disciplinary action.”
So what does that mean for McIlroy’s longtime Ryder Cup teammates, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood? Or Johnson, whose success on the Tour has paralleled McIlroy’s? He was asked directly whether players of that ilk should reasonably expect to return to the PGA Tour.
“Not really, I guess,” McIlroy said. “You have some guys in a position where they are literally not guaranteed a job next year. It’s hard to stay in the top 125 [on the FedExCup list] out here, especially when you’re a guy in your 40s and maybe you don’t hit the ball as far as you’re used to.
“Someone that isn’t guaranteed their Tour card next year, another entity comes along and says, we’ll guarantee you this amount for three years, plus you’re playing for a ton more prize money, and you’re playing less events, you can spend more time with your family. I mean, whenever you sit down and look at some of those things, it’s very appealing to some of those guys that are in that position.”