McIlroy Defends Saudi Appearance Fees – 'It's Hard To Say No'

The Northern Irishman, who has always said he would not sign up to any proposed Saudi Super League, says players should not be punished for accepting life-changing amounts of money

The Northern Irishman, who has always said he would not sign up to any proposed Saudi Super League, says players should not be punished for accepting life-changing amounts of money
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy says he would never “punish” anyone for picking up a massive cheque just for playing in Saudi Arabia, even though he remains adamant he would never sign up if their Super League plans were to become a reality.

McIlroy pointed out that some players could earn about a tenth of their annual income just by teeing it up in Saudi, and it was hard to begrudge them that opportunity. His big concern is that bumper appearance fees could make players less hungry for success – and admitted he had suffered from that problem himself early in his career.

He explained: “It's the competitive integrity to me that's one of the biggest issues here, right. It's like how hard are guys going to compete when they know that they are guaranteed whatever the money is?

“Even when I started to get appearance fees back in 2009 or whatever, I struggled with that, going to tournaments in Korea and Japan feeling like I had already won before I teed it up and had to get over that mental battle of that as well. My own views on the Saudi thing remain unchanged. It's not something that I would want to do but again, that’s more to do with the fact that I like being my own boss.

“I don't want to be told what to do; I don't want to be told where to show up, when to show up. You have so many events, you have to travel here. It's nice to be able to take a couple weeks off. That's the nice thing.

“I’ve always thought that rival golf tours are just going to make the existing tours better. I think competition is a good thing. I think any business needs competition for things to progress and move on. I don't think that's a problem.”

And McIlroy feels the PGA and DP World Tours need to be careful about placing restrictions on players who want to cash in.

He added: “One thing I would worry about is if guys go to Saudi and they are going to make ten per cent of their yearly income just by going and playing, then restricting them from doing that. Punishing them could create resentment for the players and that creates a problem between the tours.

“Look, it's a tricky one. Everyone knows that. But as I’ve said before, I certainly don't blame anyone for going and doing it. At the end of the day, it's our job and livelihood. If someone comes and offers you that sort of money, it's hard to say no.

The Northern Irishman, who has always said he would not sign up to any proposed Saudi Super League, says players should not be punished for accepting life-changing amounts of money

(Image credit: Getty Images)

“You obviously want to be loyal to the people who have supported you and helped you along the way. But then you have to think of other things as well, especially guys that are in their forties.   

“Their competitive days are not over, but they are certainly coming to an end and it's one last chance to set their family up and kids. It's a big deal. So I think the best course of action for the main tours is to concentrate on what you're doing and doing it to the best of your ability.” 

And the former world No1 said people in the game could not afford to become sanctimonious about where the money is coming from. 

“I think it's already past that point. There’s a lot of money coming into the game from all around the world, and it's hard to go anywhere and not have something or someone involved that people won't agree with,” he said. 

“Maybe some people don't agree where the money comes from, but if you try to be too moralistic about it, and have principles, you're going to be able to not live life at the end of the day.  

“It's not black and white. There's a lot of grey areas and I've certainly thought about it and wrestled with it. At the end of the day, if you try to take that hard line stance, you're just going to end up not being able to do what you want to do."  

Sergio Garcia, who will be playing in Saudi Arabia next week, agrees that the Tours should not try to scare players off. 

He commented:  “I understand the position of the Tours. At the same time, they have to understand all of us too. We’re trying to achieve things, not only for myself but for my family.  

“I’ve been a member of the European Tour for 23 years, and I’ve supported the PGA Tour for almost as long. I’ve put a lot of mileage in my body. That’s fine – as long as at the end of the day, we come to an agreement, and we keep supporting each other. It will be good. 

“I’ve always said I am a worldwide player who plays all over the world. It doesn’t mean I am going to stop playing the PGA Tour and European Tour, because I love playing them. But I also have the possibility of expanding here and there when I have the chance. 

“It’s just about having trust in each other and finding the right way to move on.” 

David Facey
David Facey

David brings a wealth of experience to Golf Monthly as a freelance contributor having spent more than two decades covering the game as The Sun's golf correspondent. Prior to that, he worked as a sports reporter for the Daily Mail. David has covered the last 12 Ryder Cups and every Masters tournament since 1999. A popular and highly-respected name in the press tents around the world, David has built close relationships with many of the game's leading players and officials.