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Resigned McIlroy a ‘sacrificial lamb’ after PGA Tour-Saudi merger

Resigned McIlroy a ‘sacrificial lamb’ after PGA Tour-Saudi merger
Rory McIlroy speaks to the media after playing in the Pro-Am of the RBC Canadian Open at Oakdale Golf and Country Club in Toronto on 7 June 2023. (Photo: Vaughn Ridley / Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy, who was the face of the PGA Tour’s player resistance to the LIV Golf circuit over the past 18 months, resigned himself to the new reality due to the merger between the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour and the Saudi Public Investment Fund.

Imagine the scene on Tuesday morning when Rory McIlroy, the world No 3 and face of the PGA Tour in its battle against LIV Golf, learnt that the very tour he set out to protect, as well as the DP World Tour, were merging with the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) – the same entity at the heart of the whirlwind that has hit professional golf over the past year.

Despite being the head of the PGA Tour’s Player Advisory Council, McIlroy was only informed of the merger during a phone call on Tuesday morning with the independent director of the PGA Tour’s policy board, Jimmy Dunne.

“Jimmy rang me at about 6.30 yesterday morning and we had a chat. He took me through the news, took me through the deal, the structure of the deal, what it meant for us, what it meant for the DP World Tour. So yeah, I learned about it pretty much at the same time everyone else did. And yeah, it was a surprise,” McIlroy said in a press conference at the RBC Canadian Open on Wednesday.

But… removing myself from the situation, I see how this is better for the game of golf… But for me as an individual, there’s just going to have to be conversations that are had.

The Northern Irishman revealed that while he was aware that discussions were going on between the parties, he did not expect things to happen so quickly.

“From what I gather, the Tour thought they were in a real position of strength coming off the back of the DP World Tour winning their legal case in London. It sort of weakened the other side’s position. And they went in there, and the way Jimmy described it – ‘You know Rory, sometimes you’ve got 280 [yards] over water and you’ve just got to go for it’. And that’s what they did.”

Changing tunes

Considering the PGA Tour and commissioner Jay Monahan have put up constant opposition to both the PIF and LIV Golf over the past year, McIlroy admitted the Tour’s decision was hypocritical.

“I said it to Jay yesterday: ‘You’ve galvanised everyone against something, and that thing that you’ve galvanised against, you’ve now partnered with.’”

However, putting the PGA Tour’s complete U-turn and his own reservations against the Saudi PIF aside, he tried to look at the positives of the deal.

 

 

“I think ultimately, when I try to remove myself from the situation and I look at the bigger picture, and I look 10 years down the line, I think this is going to be good for the game of professional golf. It unifies it and it secures its financial future,” McIlroy said.

“It’s hard for me at the minute to not sit up here and feel like somewhat of a sacrificial lamb and feel like I’ve put myself out there and this is what happens. But 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, there’s just going to have to be conversations that are had.”

‘Hate LIV’

Following Tuesday’s announcement of the historic merger, much of the worldwide media coverage focused on the PGA Tour merging with LIV Golf. However, McIlroy felt this was incorrect.

“I think the one thing that was really misconstrued yesterday was that all the headlines were, ‘PGA Tour merges with LIV’. LIV has got nothing to do with this, right. I mean the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour and the Public Investment Fund are basically partnering to create a new company.”

“It’s not LIV. I still hate LIV. I hope it goes away and I fully expect that it does. 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,” he said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Money putts a hole in one after PGA Tour abandons opposition to LIV Golf and merges with Saudi outfit

McIlroy explained that the new company will essentially sit above everything in professional golf, and Jay Monahan, the current PGA Tour commissioner, will be the CEO. With the way the company is structured, the PGA Tour is in control, and anyone involved with LIV would have to answer to Monahan, he said.

As a result, McIlroy believes the PGA Tour will continue to operate as it always has.

“All I’ve tried to do was protect what the PGA Tour is and what the PGA Tour stands for, and I think it will continue to do that.”

Rory McIlroy at the Pro-Am of the RBC Canadian Open at Oakdale Golf and Country Club in Toronto on 7 June 2023. (Photo: Vaughn Ridley / Getty Images)

‘Money talks’

Although the details have yet to be finalised, with more than $600-billion in assets across the globe, the Saudi PIF has now seemingly snatched a controlling interest at the top of professional golf to add to an ever-growing sporting portfolio.

“Whether you like it or not, the PIF were going to keep spending money in golf. At least the PGA Tour now controls how that money is spent. If you’re thinking about one of the biggest sovereign wealth funds in the world – and whether you would rather have them as a partner or an enemy – at the end of the day money talks, and you would rather have them as a partner,” said McIlroy.

“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 what’s going to happen… 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.” DM

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