Rory McIlroy, who wrote off the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series as “dead in the water” in February, now says it will “shape the future of professional golf”.
The controversial rival to the PGA Tour and DP World Tour guided by Australian great Greg Norman was a major topic of conversation at Southern Hills ahead of Thursday’s start of the PGA Championship.
McIlroy, a four-time Major winner, said in February that LIV Golf would be little more than a glorified 50-and-over tour, stating: “It’s dead in the water, in my opinion. I just can’t see any reason why anyone would go.”
With LIV Golf’s first event next month in London set to pay a record $25 million, McIlroy’s tune has changed even with no players so far committed to the upstart series.
“I might have been a little presumptuous at that point,” McIlroy said. “It seems like it’s still going. Greg and everyone behind it are very determined.
“Guys are going to make decisions. Honestly, it’s going to shape the future of professional golf one way or another, so I think we’re just going to have to see how it all shakes out.”
One very interested viewer is PGA of America chief executive Seth Waugh, who ripped LIV Golf and the changes money would bring to the sport.
“We don’t think this is good for the game,” Waugh said. “We’re big supporters of the ecosystem as it stands. The [LIV] league structure is somewhat flawed.
“Bringing outside money into the game is going to change it forever, if that, in fact, happens. The Tour is owned by the players, and that means that everything ultimately flows back to the players.
“As soon as you put any money into it, it’s going to create a need for return, a need for exit, and a lot of things that change the dynamics of it, which we don’t think is necessarily good for the ecosystem.”
It would bring much more money to the 48 LIV Golf players in three-day events worldwide, although the PGA Tour last week refused to release members for the LIV London event, being played opposite the PGA Canadian Open.
It’s not certain what punishment PGA members would face for playing in London, but Waugh noted requirements to be eligible for the PGA Championship.
“We have our own bylaws that we will follow towards those fields,” he said. “Our bylaws do say you have to be a recognised member of a recognised tour in order to be a PGA member somewhere, and therefore eligible to play.”
Saudis have contributed to the Asian Tour and LIV players could join that tour and qualify, although the PGA could alter its bylaws as well.
Norman was asked last week about Saudi involvement in the 2018 slaying of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and replied in part: “Look, we’ve all made mistakes and you just want to learn from those mistakes.”
“We do all make mistakes,” McIlroy said. “I think Greg is in a very tough position because he has taken the role of being the leader of something that is very divisive. He’s in a no-win situation.”
Tiger Woods said he’s committed to the PGA and cited new moves it has made such as bonus money to reward the most popular players.
“Top players have carried the Tour for a number of years,” Woods said. “It’s trying to take care of the players that have obviously done a lot for the Tour. I think those guys should get rewarded somehow.”
Also happy with the PGA is ninth-ranked US star Justin Thomas.
“I’m very content with the direction the PGA Tour is going,” Thomas said. “I think a lot of players feel the same way, which is very important. We have a lot of loyalty to the Tour. They have done a lot for us.
“I’m not sure what the end game is going to be. I think a lot of people are just ready for it to happen or not and us stop answering questions about it.”
Count seventh-ranked McIlroy among them.
“I’m rooting for it all to be over. I’m just so sick of talking about it,” he said. “I’ve made my decision and I know where I want to play.”
© Agence France-Presse