Sport

GAME CHANGER

LIV Golf threat has benefited everyone, says McIlroy

LIV Golf threat has benefited everyone, says McIlroy
Rory McIlroy hits a shot in a practice round before The Players Championship on The Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, on 7 March 2023. (Photo: Richard Heathcote / Getty Images)

The PGA Tour has revamped its tournament structure as a direct response to the threat of LIV Golf.

Rory McIlroy has spent the past year as the leading voice among the players in the PGA Tour’s battle against the upstart LIV Golf League.

He’s also the first to admit the threat from its Saudi-backed rival forced the PGA Tour to aggressively address its “antiquated system” in a way that benefits players on all of the top tours.

McIlroy made the comments on Tuesday before his 13th start at The Players Championship, which he won in 2019. The remarks came after the tour’s annual players meeting, which followed last week’s announcement that 2024 will include eight limited-field, no-cut events.

This year’s designated events feature $20-million purses, while The Players was increased to $25-million. McIlroy said “a lot” of the changes have been stirred by the threat of LIV Golf.

“I’m not going to sit here and lie; I think the emergence of LIV or the emergence of a competitor to the PGA Tour has benefited everyone that plays elite professional golf,” the 33-year-old from Northern Ireland said.

“I think when you’ve been the biggest golf league in the biggest market in the world for the last 60 years, there’s not a lot of incentive to innovate.

“This has caused a ton of innovation at the PGA Tour and what was quite, I would say, an antiquated system is being revamped to try to mirror where we’re at in the world in the 21st century with the media landscape.

“The PGA Tour isn’t just competing with LIV Golf or other sports. It’s competing with Instagram and TikTok and everything else that’s trying to take eyeballs away from the PGA Tour as a product.”

World No 1 Jon Rahm echoed McIlroy’s thoughts about the PGA Tour alterations.

“Without LIV Golf, this wouldn’t have happened. So, to an extent, like I’ve said before, we should be thankful this threat has made the PGA Tour want to change things,” the 28-year-old Spaniard said.

“I think I said it last week, as well; I wish it didn’t come to the PGA Tour being, you know, under fire from somebody else to make those changes and make things better for the players, but I guess it is what we needed. So, yeah, it is because of LIV Golf, otherwise we wouldn’t have seen any of this.”

Awkward

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan acknowledged on Tuesday that it is “awkward” not to have Australian Cameron Smith in this week’s field, the defending Players champion who now lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, the site of The Players. In fact, four players who finished in the top six last year have since joined LIV Golf.

Cameron Smith plays his second shot to the 10th green during the ISPS Handa Australian Open 2022 at the Kingston Heath Golf Club in Melbourne, Australia, on 2 December 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Con Chronis)

“Would it be better if the defending champion was here this week? Absolutely,” McIlroy said. “But he made a decision that he felt was the best thing for him, and he knew that decision was going to come with consequences. And one of the consequences is right now not being able to play on the PGA Tour.”

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He added that LIV has “definitely had a massive impact on the game”. Beyond the noticeable players missing from the PGA Tour’s “fifth major” this week, McIlroy previously admitted to fractured relationships with longtime European Ryder Cup teammates, including Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood.

McIlroy also has spent countless hours working as an advocate for the players on the policy board. He said on Tuesday that an initial plan during a meeting in Delaware last August called for a schedule featuring 14 designated events.

McIlroy said that plan would have been “self-serving for the 20 players in that room”. The plan announced last week trims that to eight events, with the intention of spreading them out to encourage the top players to enter a handful of full-field events to keep their games sharp.

It also includes “enough jeopardy”, as McIlroy said, where even the top players must continue to secure their spots at those designated events.

“It’s trying to create the best schedule that guarantees that the top players play in the big events,” he said. “But also that it can sort of guarantee the participation in a handful of the full-field events as well. There’s a pretty good balance to it.”

The plan

After a seven-hour meeting with the Tour Policy Board last week, the tour presented a pared-down version of the plan during the Tuesday player meeting.

“I think it was good for them to see that and to see what the thinking is behind what we’re really trying to do here,” McIlroy said. “The temperature in the room was nowhere near as hot as I anticipated it to be once the information was sort of laid out.”

While serving as the de facto voice of the PGA Tour players in the ongoing public relations battle with LIV Golf, McIlroy has managed to stay focused on his game. He won three times in a seven-event span to regain the No 1 world ranking.

That quickly was reclaimed by Scottie Scheffler and then Rahm, with McIlroy slipping to No 3 entering this week. He’s coming off a tie for second last week in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and is hopeful that he can enjoy a bit more balance in his life now that the plan for 2024 has been made public.


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“When I went on the board of the PGA Tour, I didn’t imagine it would take up this much time. But I think it’s been important work, and I’m proud of the steps that we and the PGA Tour have made to try to make everything better for the membership and try to stem the flow of players that have gone to LIV,” he said.

“But yeah, hopefully with these new changes that have been announced, the majority of my time will be spent on concentrating on getting ready for golf tournaments and trying to be the best player that I can be.

“It might give me a bit more free time to do other things that I enjoy, as well.”

Great time to be on PGA Tour

It is a great time to be a PGA Tour player, declared commissioner Jay Monahan on Tuesday, describing the sweeping changes to the tour’s structure as a new chapter in what will be a bestseller.

That new chapter, however, appears to have been ripped from the LIV Golf playbook, with the PGA Tour announcing last week that next season will see reduced fields (70 to 78 players) and no cuts at eight big-money ($20-million) designated events in response to the threat posed by the Saudi-backed circuit.

Tour commissioner Jay Monahan. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Erik S Lesser)

“One great chapter does not make a great book,” said Monahan speaking at the PGA Tour’s flagship Players Championship. “It is the whole story, the ebbs and the flows, the transitions, the connectivity between each.

“That’s what makes a book great, and that’s what you need to do to deliver a bestseller.

“We must showcase our top performers competing against one another more often.

“This is what fans want and this is what fans have been asking for.”

It is also what the PGA Tour’s top players have demanded for remaining loyal to the circuit and not joining an exodus of big names lured to LIV Golf which features limited-field, 54-hole events with no cuts and massive prize money.

No-cut, limited-field events are not new to golf, noted Monahan, with Tiger Woods winning 26 times in that format, Arnold Palmer 23 and Jack Nicklaus 17.

Monahan described the changes as part of an ongoing evolution that addresses the changing needs of players, partners and fans. Reuters/DM

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