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In a wild past 12 months of golf, McIlroy's press conference ahead of this week's RBC Canadian Open, which has once again been overshadowed by off-course dealings, was arguably the most anticipated in recent times.
The PGA Tour's 'spokesperson' was here to speak on a monumental deal between the PGA Tour and its rival LIV Golf's backers - the Saudi Arabian Public Investment fund. Is he in favor of the deal? Did he even know about it? And what next? Anyone with even a tiny bit of interest in golf was eagerly awaiting his words.
To start with, McIlroy says he found out the news at 6.30am yesterday morning after PGA Tour Board member Jimmy Dunne texted him on Monday night asking for a call the following morning. He knew talks had been going on in the background but still admits he "learned about it pretty much at the same time everyone else did" and called it a "surprise."
McIlroy cut a slightly stressed figure, admitting that he wasn't looking forward to facing the media and tried to take himself out of the equation and look at the deal for the good of the game. McIlroy did describe himself "a sacrificial lamb" after 12+ months of talking out against LIV, supporting the PGA Tour, re-shaping it and losing friendships, notably with Ryder Cup partner Sergio Garcia whom he was a groomsman for at the Spaniard's wedding.
The Northern Irishman's 'figurehead' role took a toll on his golf and his mind, too. He skipped the RBC Heritage after his game suffered with missed cuts at The Players Championship and The Masters, losing out on $3m of his PIP money for missing his second 'designated' event of the year.
"It was just more for my mental and emotional wellbeing," he explained as to his reasonings for skipping Harbour Town.
In regards to the new PGA Tour/PIF merger, it is incredibly early days with the entire golf world unclear as to what's going to follow. McIlroy, when taking himself out of the equation, says it's ultimately "going to be good for the game of professional golf."
He spoke in detail about various different areas of the new 'entity' set to come in...
"I still hate LIV"
McIlroy stressed that calls of LIV and the PGA Tour merging wasn't correct and had some fascinating views on the future of team golf and LIV Golf under the new 'entity' of the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and PIF.
"Yeah, so I think the one thing that I think was really misconstrued yesterday was all the headlines were PGA Tour merges with LIV," he said. "And LIV's got nothing to do with this, right. It's the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and the Public Investment Fund are basically partnering to create a new company."
LIV has "nothing to do" with the merger, Rory says, but he does expect team golf to be at least some part of the PGA Tour's future. He stressed that it won't look anything like LIV if he gets his way.
"I still hate LIV, I hope it goes away and fully expect that it does," he said on the prospect of team competition on the PGA Tour.
"And I think that's where the distinction here is. This is the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour and the PIF. Very different from LIV. All I've tried to do is protect what the PGA Tour is and what the PGA Tour stands for. And I think it will continue to do that.
"So, look, going forward I hope that there's, you know, there may be a team element and you're going to see, maybe me, maybe whoever else play in some sort of team golf. But I don't think it will look anything like LIV has looked and I think that's a good thing.
"I would say an element of team golf might still stay. It certainly, in my opinion, and my hope is it won't, it won't be under the LIV umbrella. It's something that the PGA Tour will control, the PGA Tour will operate. And it will hopefully look very different to what LIV has been."
Never offered LIV money
Reports have been circulating that McIlroy lost out on hundreds of millions of dollars to join LIV Golf, yet he assured the media that he was never offered any money to join Greg Norman's 54-hole circuit.
"I was never offered any money," he made clear.
But some big names were. Hideki Matsuyama was long-rumored to be considering joining LIV, with figures up to $400m banded about that he would captain his own team and grow LIV into a huge product in Japan. Jon Rahm may have also had an offer in the hundreds of millions, and recently Fred Couples said that Will Zalatoris turned down $130m to stay loyal to the PGA Tour.
What will happen to those guys? Will they get their money that they turned down to stay loyal to Jay Monahan?
"I mean, the simple answer is yes," McIlroy said. "The complex answer is how does that happen? Right.
"And that's all, that's all a gray area and up in the air at the minute. But, yeah, there is, it's hard to, it's hard for me to not sit up here and feel somewhat like a sacrificial lamb and feeling like I've put myself out there and this is what happens.
"Again, removing myself from the situation, I see how this is better for the game of golf. There's no denying that. But for me as an individual, yeah, I, there's just going to have to be conversations that are had."
What will those conversations be? You'd have to think that plenty of PGA Tour players will be wanting money from their now-Saudi-backed entity after initially turning it down.
He still has confidence in Jay Monahan
There have been calls for Jay Monahan to resign after he essentially went back on his word around the Saudi investment and talk of 9/11. The now-infamous clip of Jay Monahan saying on air last year has been circulating on social media. "Have you ever had to apologise for being a member of the PGA Tour?", he said.
McIlroy, at least publicly, has stuck up for the PGA Tour Commissioner despite some of his fellow pros reportedly feeling "shocked" and "disgusted".
PGA Tour didn’t communicate this to players at all. They found out same time we did. “Shocked and confused.”“Disgusted. They didn’t tell us anything.”June 6, 2023
"I do," he said when asked if he still has confidence in Monahan.
"And, look, I've dealt with Jay a lot closer than a lot of those guys have. From where we were a couple of weeks ago to where we are today, I think the future of the PGA Tour looks brighter as a whole, as an entity.
"What that looks like for individual players in terms of keeping a Tour card and bringing players back into the fold and then that sacrifices other people, that's where the anger comes from, right. And I understand that.
"There still has to be consequences to actions. The people that left the PGA Tour irreparably harmed this Tour, started litigation against it. Like, we can't just welcome them back in. Like, that's not going to happen.
"And I think that was the one thing that Jay was trying to get across yesterday is like, guys, we're not just going to bring these guys back in and pretend like nothing's happened. That is not going to happen.
"So I do have confidence in him. I think you ask the people around him that deal with him in a business sense, whether it's the directors of the board of the PGA Tour or the title sponsors that he deals with, I mean, he seems to be a very impressive individual when it comes to business."
McIlroy famously said he "didn't like where the money was coming from" back in the days when the Premier Golf League, which had Saudi backing at the time, was being proposed.
Now, though, he admits that he has "come to terms with it" that the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund is a big investor in global sports.
"I've come to terms with it," he said. "I see what's happened in other sports. I see what's happened in other businesses. And, honestly, I've just resigned myself to the fact that this is, you know, this is what's going to happen.
"Like this is - it's very hard to keep up with people that have more money than anyone else. And, again, if they want to put that money into the game of golf, then why don't we partner with them and make sure that it's done in the right way. And that's sort of where my head's at."
Europeans back in the Ryder Cup frame? He says no
Now that the DP World Tour will be under the same 'entity' as the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, could it be that the Ryder Cup legends are back in the frame for the team and, more importantly, future captaincies?
"I don't think it changes," he said. "The ruling in that arbitration court was upheld that the European Tour can uphold the rules and regulations and sanction people for leaving the Tour, for harming the Tour.
"And again, I think it's a moot point, because all those guys have resigned their membership. If you're not a member of the European Tour you can't play the Ryder Cup. So to me it's a moot point."
Feels bad for Canadian Open
On the golf course, it's a big week for McIlroy who attempts to win his third-consecutive RBC Canadian Open.
Once again, though, Canada's national open is being overshadowed by off-course developments. Last year, the event coincided with LIV's opening event in London and McIlroy used his winning speech to make a dig at CEO Greg Norman after overtaking him in PGA Tour wins.
"This is a day I'll remember for a long, long time," he said last year on the 18th green. "21st PGA Tour win, one more than someone else. That gave me a little bit of extra incentive today, and happy to get it done."
This year, he says he feels bad for RBC and the Canadian Open that once again, the on-course action will be secondary in the golf news cycle.
"I mean, I feel bad for RBC and the Canadian Open," he said. "To think about what went on this time last year and then the bombshell that was dropped. I mean, RBC have been one of the biggest supporters of the PGA Tour over the last 10 years.
"This year they're supporting a designated event at Hilton Head. They're sponsoring their National Open. They're pouring tens of millions of dollars into the PGA Tour that the players obviously benefit from. So I really, I feel bad because being such a great partner and having this stuff sort of dropped on you two years in a row is very unfair."
Watch Rory McIlroy's press conference in full:
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Elliott Heath is our Senior Staff Writer and has been with Golf Monthly since early 2016 after graduating with a degree in Sports Journalism. He manages the Golf Monthly news, features, courses and travel sections as well as our large Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. He covered the 2022 Masters from Augusta National as well as four Open Championships on-site including the 150th at St Andrews. His first Open was in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, when he walked inside the ropes with Jordan Spieth during the Texan's memorable Claret Jug triumph. He has played 35 of our Top 100 golf courses, with his favourites being both Sunningdales, Woodhall Spa, Western Gailes, Old Head and Turnberry. He has been obsessed with the sport since the age of 8 and currently plays at West Byfleet Golf Club in Surrey, where his handicap index floats anywhere between 2-5. His golfing highlights are making albatross on the 9th hole on the Hotchkin Course at Woodhall Spa, shooting an under-par round, playing in the Aramco Team Series on the Ladies European Tour and making his one and only hole-in-one at the age of 15 - a long time ago now!
Elliott is currently playing:
Driver: Titleist TSR4
3 wood: TaylorMade SIM2 Max
Hybrid: TaylorMade SIM Max
Irons: Mizuno MP5 4-PW
Wedges: Cleveland RTX ZipCore 50, 54, 58
Putter: Odyssey White Hot OG #5
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
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