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Rory McIlroy Eases Up On LIV Golf Criticism | TheSportsDay Rory McIlroy Eases Up On LIV Golf Criticism | TheSportsDay

Rory McIlroy eases up on LIV Golf criticism

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For the entirety of LIV Golf’s two-year-long assault on the PGA Tour, Rory McIlroy has stood as a staunch defender of the Tour and its traditions, railing against both LIV itself and the players who took millions of Saudi Arabia’s money to join it. McIlroy’s critiques have been both pointed and petty, but never backed off — not even when the Tour hung him out to dry with

Things have changed. McIlroy has softened his stance on LIV Golf and its players. In a wide-ranging interview on the Stick To Football podcast, McIlroy discussed the origins of the LIV Golf-PGA Tour rift, and expressed some regret for the way he handled his side of the debate.

The key problem with the LIV-PGA Tour divide, McIlroy said, is the “massive upheaval” that split golf into two camps. “Golf is a small enough sport,” he said. “It’s not like football where you’ve got billions of fans, so if you start dividing the eyeballs in professional golf, it’s not good for anyone. It’s going to cannibalize itself.”

That’s a key point, and one that many PGA Tour players clamoring for astronomical, LIV-matching paychecks have missed.

With a few months’ reflection — and with the awareness that the PGA Tour left him exposed by negotiating an agreement with the Saudis without his input — McIlroy is more willing now to point to how LIV may have positively impacted the game, or at least exposed the flaws in the Tour’s business model.

Rory McIlroy has mitigated some of his criticism of LIV Golf. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)Rory McIlroy has mitigated some of his criticism of LIV Golf. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy has mitigated some of his criticism of LIV Golf. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

“We’re all supposed to be independent contractors and we can pick and choose what tournaments we want to play,” McIlroy said. “But I think what LIV and the Saudis have exposed is that you’re asking for millions of dollars to sponsor these events, and you’re not able to guarantee to the sponsors that the players are going to show up. I can’t believe (the PGA Tour has) done so well for so long.”

McIlroy’s feuds with LIV Golf players and figures — particularly LIV CEO Greg Norman — turned deeply personal over the course of the last few years. He now regrets that approach, at least to some extent.

“I was maybe a little judgmental of the guys who went to LIV Golf at the start, and I think it was a bit of a mistake on my part because I now realize that not everyone is in my position, or in Tiger Woods’ position,” he said. “We all turn professional to make a living playing the sports that we do and I think that’s what I realized over the last two years. I can’t judge people for making that decision. So, if I regret anything, it was probably being too judgmental at the start.”

However, he still can’t quite sympathize with LIV players who torched the PGA Tour. “I don’t begrudge anyone for going and taking the money and doing something different, but don’t try to burn the place down on your way out,” he said. “That is my attitude towards it because some people are happy playing in the existing structure and that’s totally fine, too. But I think it’s just created this division that will hopefully stop soon because I think it’s the best thing for golf too.”

McIlroy also praised Jon Rahm, who jumped to LIV in December. “I think Jon, he’s smart and I think he sees things coming together at some point,” he said. “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.”

Although the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, the financial backer of LIV Golf, have extended their self-imposed deadline to reach an agreement, McIlroy appears to be conceding that Saudi money will have a place in the game going forward, and that some form of reunion is likely. Given how fractured golf has become, that can only be good news for the sport.

For the full interview, click here.

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