The PGA Tour, facing a crush of internal dissent for its choice this week to accept the kind of Saudi money it spent the last year denouncing as tainted, appeared Wednesday to have the support of one of its most powerful players: Rory McIlroy, who had been one of the foremost critics of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit, which had convulsed the sport.
Peering a decade into the future, McIlroy predicted Wednesday that the agreement to bring the tour and LIV’s business dealings into a single company controlled by the PGA Tour would be “good for the game of professional golf.”
“There’s a lot of ambiguity,” McIlroy said Wednesday in Toronto, where a tour event is scheduled to begin Thursday. “There’s a lot of things still to be sort of thrashed out. But at least it means that the litigation goes away, which has been a massive burden for everyone that’s involved with the tour and that’s playing the tour, and we can start to work toward some sort of way of unifying the game at the elite level.”
McIlroy, a member of the PGA Tour board, which will ultimately have to approve the agreement that blindsided almost the entire golf industry when it was announced on Tuesday, is only one player. But he is among the world’s most prominent golfers, and his decision to refrain from joining the wave of condemnations toward the PGA Tour is a precious reprieve for Commissioner Jay Monahan and his allies as they scramble to curb a revolt against the deal.
McIlroy was among the players who met with Monahan on Tuesday afternoon in Toronto, a forum that Monahan himself conceded had been “intense” and “heated.” In its wake, some players suggested a loss of confidence in the commissioner, who negotiated the deal with the Saudis in secrecy.
In his appearance on Wednesday, McIlroy declared his lingering opposition to LIV — “I still hate LIV. I hate them. I hope it goes away.” — but he argued that the circuit could be defanged once it is a part of a company that the PGA Tour controls. (The tour is expected to hold a majority of board seats, but Yasir al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, is in line to be the company’s chairman, and the fund will have the exclusive right to invest in the new company.)
“Whether you like it or not, the PIF and the Saudis want to spend money in the game of golf,” McIlroy said, referring to the Public Investment Fund, the state arm that al-Rumayyan leads. “They want to do this, and they weren’t going to stop.”