Rory McIlroy calls for consultation between tours, LIV: ‘It has to happen’

As LIV picks up momentum and takes on some of the game’s biggest names, Rory McIlroy appealed to the leading golf tours to at least have a chat with rival league officials.

In an interview earlier this week at the JP McManus Pro-Am, McIlroy seemed to soften his tough stance and called for cooperation.

At the request of BBC Sports NI whether the PGA and DP World tours should have “peace talks” with LIV, McIlroy said, “I think so. I think that should happen.”

That marks a grim departure for McIlroy, who, as one of four player directors on the PGA Tour Policy Board, has, of course, been one of the Tour’s leading spokespersons. In February, in the wake of Phil Mickelson’s controversial comments, McIlroy said the LIV circuit was “dead in the water,” but he has since admitted his statement was premature.

So far, Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has refused to contact LIV frontman Greg Norman, despite the former world No. 1 calling him by name in interviews and press releases in recent months.

McIlroy’s turnaround suggests an awareness that the Saudi-backed startup competition is not going anywhere and that an ongoing elite-level rift could do irreparable damage to the sport. LIV just completed its second event, in Portland, and many say the experience for players and their support teams has been overwhelmingly positive. After next week’s Open Championship and the conclusion of the FedExCup playoffs at the end of August, more players are expected to join LIV.

LIV said last week that it will begin its 14-event competition format in March 2023, a year ahead of schedule. Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Mickelson are among the stars who have already joined the breakaway tour.

It is unclear at this stage what a compromise would look like. Monahan has indefinitely suspended any Tour member who screwed up in a LIV event; many have already canceled their membership.

“It’s a shame, it’s messy, I wish it hadn’t gotten so messy and in retrospect I think there were probably steps that were missed that wouldn’t have made it so messy,” McIlroy told BBC Sports NI. “But I said this at the very beginning in 2020, I think in the long run it will make the game better because I think it will force the tours to adapt and change and make the product better and focus on maybe the fan involvement side of things and focus on maybe some things they’ve neglected over the years.

“I think in the long run there’s just this disruption, and with disruption comes change and forced change, and I think this has forced the hands of the tours a little bit and they have to adapt and change, and that’s what they will have to try.”

The PGA Tour has already announced significant changes in recent weeks. The circuit will boost wallets in its major events and return to a January-August schedule where only the top 70 players qualify for the playoffs. The top players will be eligible to compete in a lucrative international series in the fall (or get rid of it altogether), while the rest will compete for state priority and status. In a strengthened alliance with the DP World Tour, the PGA Tour also said the top 10 European tour players will receive their Tour tickets at the end of the season.

McIlroy even seemed to echo recent comments from DP World Tour chief executive Keith Pelley, who said he would be willing to engage with LIV officials if they worked within the current ecosystem rather than launch a rival tour. McIlroy was the first golf superstar to turn down the Saudis, saying in 2020 he was uncomfortable with the controversial funding source, with LIV being backed by the Saudi government’s public investment fund. But now he sees the significant influx of cash as a boon to the sport — if it’s pumped into “existing structures.”

“Look, there’s so much talk about where the money comes from and Saudi Arabia and everything else, and they sponsor so many other things and they’re all about sports,” he told the BBC.

†[Saudi oil company] Aramco is a big sponsor of Formula 1, the Aramco Ladies Series in golf, which has actually been really good for the ladies in terms of big prize money and so on, so I understand people’s reservations about everything.

“But at the same time, if these people are serious about investing billions of dollars in golf, I think ultimately that’s a good thing. But it has to be done the right way, and I think if they were to invest, it would have to be invested within the existing structures. And I think that’s what I’ve been trying to advocate for over the past few months – I think if people want to spend that much money on golf right now, that’s great; I wish we could have spent that much money within the structure that has been in golf for decades, instead of being a major disruptor.

“At the end of the day I said it will sort itself out, and everyone has to turn and change and try to adapt and get better, and hopefully we’ll get to that stage. But right now it’s a bit messy and the whole story is not good. It splits the game instead of everyone coming together, and I think everyone should try to come together a little bit more.”

McIlroy said he has “a difference of opinion” with those who chose to leave the PGA Tour, but he has no lasting grudge against those players, many of whom are already longtime friends. Still, he acknowledged the thorny issue of those wanting to play both circuits; Ian Poulter was one of the players to win a stay to play in this week’s Genesis Scottish Open, which has been co-approved by both the PGA and DP World tours.

“I think if you’re going to play on another tour at this stage, go play on another tour,” McIlroy told the BBC. “I think having your pie and eating it is the grudge that comes with the membership. Because there are only 48 players on this tour, not everyone gets the chance to play. You leave all your peers behind to start making money, and that’s fine.

“Just go there, don’t try to come back and play here again. That’s the tricky part and that’s where the resentment comes from. I don’t blame anyone for me. These guys are my friends no matter what decisions they make.”

McIlroy is not on the Scottish Open field, the only top 15 player in the world not to have made the trip to Renaissance Club. He will speak with media at 4 p.m. ET in St. Andrews on Tuesday.

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