May 22, 2024

Rory McIlroy compliments LIV Golf, opens up on Saudi investment

Rory McIlroy is a diehard soccer fan who supports Manchester United, which made the four-time major winner a fitting guest for The Overlap’s “Stick to Football” show that features former United stars Roy Keane and Gary Neville as well as fellow greats Ian Wright and Jamie Carragher.

As a guest on the show’s most recent episode, McIlroy began by telling a hilarious story of Keane rejecting his autograph request in a hotel when he was just 12 years old before the discussion ventured toward topics like LIV Golf and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund investment in sport.

One of the most shocking answers McIlroy gave was to a question about the governor of the PIF, Yasir Al-Rumayyan. McIlroy said he met Al-Rumayyan at the end of 2022 and asked him what he wanted to do with golf. That conversation, as McIlroy tells it, was the spark that would eventually light the framework agreement between the PIF and the PGA Tour.

“We had a really good chat, and we talked about how he loves the game and he wants to do certain things, he thinks the team element in golf can really take off and try to build franchise value in some of these teams and I understood some of it,” McIlroy explained. “So when I got back to America at the start of (2023), I was on the board of the PGA Tour and I said to the guys, ‘someone’s got to go talk to this guy.’ So then there was a plan put in place that one of the board members would try to develop a relationship with him, see if we can try to figure something out and we can all move forward together.”

“So I knew that there was conversations being had,” he continued, “but I didn’t know that it would happen so quickly. Then obviously on June 6, a framework agreement was announced and a lot of the players were angered by it because they were completely blindsided by it.”

A staunch defender of the PGA Tour, McIlroy wasn’t shy about admitting how he has been wrong over the last two years and that he viewed the struggle in professional golf with an “altruistic approach” and that if he regrets anything, it was being so judgmental of players who left for LIV.

McIlroy also said LIV has “exposed flaws in the system” by taking advantage of players as independent contractors and making it impossible for the Tour to financially compete.

“(The Tour is) asking sponsors for millions of dollars to sponsor these events, and you’re not able to guarantee those sponsors the players that are going to show up, it’s very hard,” said McIlroy. “I can’t believe (the PGA Tour has) done so well for so long. So it’s actually exposed some flaws in the system that hopefully golf will have a look at.”

“If we’re going to ask these people for so much money, we need to be able to guarantee them what they’re getting, and I think that was part of the stuff that we’ve been trying to do for the last two years to figure out how can we bring the thing back together again and learn from some of the things that have happened and some of the stuff that LIV has exposed.”

McIlroy also admitted that he has realized Saudi Arabia investing money in golf is a good thing, but he wants it to be done the right way.

“Instead of giving someone $100 million, why don’t you put $50 million into a grassroots program for the R&A or USGA so you can actually help. Whenever they say ‘growing the game,’ spending that money elsewhere to actually grow the game and not just try to buy talent I think would be a way better way to spend that money.”

The Northern Irishman said things have cooled down between players but admitted he’s still bothered those who spoke poorly about the PGA Tour and DP World Tour after they left for LIV. He then dished on his Ryder Cup teammate, Jon Rahm, who recently signed for the Saudi-backed league after he made critical comments about LIV and its format for years. McIlroy argued the Tour legitimized what LIV was trying to do with the shocking framework agreement and the proposed deal made it easier for guys like Rahm to make the move.

“I think Jon, he’s smart and I think he sees things coming together at some point,” said McIlroy, who also claims he’s never received an offer from LIV. “It’s a smart business move. It’s opportunistic. I think he sees that things will come back together and he’s in a lucky position. He’s exempt for all the majors. There’s not one person that wouldn’t want him on our Ryder Cup team because of you know how good he is. He was in a great position where there wasn’t a ton of risk involved for him to go.”

McIlroy also talked about the TGL, his desire to complete the grand slam, Ryder Cup glory and where he sees the game going in the future. Watch the episode here.

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