Rory McIlroy details beginning of Greg Norman feud

McIlroy recounted the turning point in his relationship with Norman.

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When Rory McIlroy took to the microphone at the DP World Tour Championship, one message stood out.

“I think Greg needs to go. I think he just needs to exit stage left,” he said.

He was referring to Greg Norman’s position as LIV CEO. And he added that while Norman is in charge, there’s no compromise likely “unless there’s an adult in the room.” The implication was clear.

It was hardly the first time McIlroy had taken a shot at Norman. When he won the RBC Canadian Open this summer, he mentioned in multiple interviews that his 21st career PGA Tour win was “one more than someone else,” a shot at Norman’s 20 career titles. At the CJ Cup, McIlroy mentioned that he’d like to spend 332 weeks at World No. 1 by the end of his career — notably one more than Norman.

And while there are plenty of obvious reasons for PGA Tour players to be taking shots at LIV’s commissioner, there’s more to the story with this particular feud. McIlroy detailed its origins as part of a lengthy interview with Paul Kimmage in this week’s Independent.

The rift began, he said, in Feb. 2020, when McIlroy spoke out against a potential upstart league. He wanted to be on the right side of history, he said, like Arnold Palmer had been in 1994 — when he stood up against Norman’s proposed World Golf Tour.

“He wasn’t happy, and we had a pretty testy back-and-forth and he was very condescending, ‘Maybe one day you’ll understand,’ and all this shite,” McIlroy told Kimmage.

But McIlroy attempted to mend fences in early 2022 after watching an ESPN documentary, Shark, about Norman’s Masters heartbreak in 1996.

After McIlroy had suffered his own Masters meltdown in 2011, Norman had reached out and been “really helpful to me,” McIlroy said. After watching the documentary, he sent Norman a message.

“Greg, I just watched your documentary on ESPN. I thought it was fantastic. It must have been very tough to do that. Hopefully, it reminds everyone of what a great golfer you were.”

McIlroy thanked Norman for what he’d told him in 2011 and said, despite their differences, he wished Norman the best. McIlroy said he considered it “a bit of an olive branch.” Norman responded with a warm message of his own, and for a moment there was a detente.

That didn’t last long.

“Then, a couple of weeks later, he does an interview with The Washington Post and says I’ve been “brainwashed by the PGA Tour,” McIlroy told Kimmage. “I’m like ‘For f— sake!’ We’ve had this really nice back-and-forth and he says that about me.”

It became McIlroy’s turning point.

“I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to make it my business now to be as much of a pain in his arse as possible,’” McIlroy continued. “And that’s basically what I’ve done since.”

He has some powerful allies in that mission. The same week of McIlroy’s initial comments, Jon Rahm backed him up, suggesting he “might need to be gone.” Earlier this week, Tiger Woods doubled down on that sentiment in no uncertain terms.

“Greg needs to go,” he said.

Norman dismissed their comments.

“I pay zero attention to McIlroy and Woods, right?” he told Today’s Golfer. “They have their agenda for whatever reason. They’re saying whatever they want to say. It has no bearing or effect on me. I’m going to be with LIV for a long, long period of time.”

He added that he has no plans to step aside as LIV’s leader.

“I am not going anywhere. I don’t care what anybody says. I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “I am so proud of the position I am in, and maybe, maybe, it’s my leadership that has them scared. Maybe.”

Greg Norman
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McIlroy couldn’t resist another dig at Norman in the interview.

“As much as I’m anti-LIV, I feel the PGA Tour have got lucky that Greg Norman has fronted this up,” he said. “I think if they had found someone less polarizing, LIV could have made more inroads.”

It wasn’t the only soured relationship McIlroy addressed in the five-hour sitdown. He also addressed his relationship with one of his childhood idols, Sergio Garcia, which has gone south since the Spaniard joined LIV.

McIlroy found out that Garcia was going to LIV, he said, at the Wells Fargo Championship, when Garcia teased that he’d gotten a new jet.

“He said to me on the range that he’d gotten a new plane, and that if I wanted a ride with him to that first LIV event in London I was welcome,” he said.

The relationship soured, he said, on Friday of the U.S. Open.

“I woke up to a text that was sent at 5.30 that morning,” McIlroy said. “He had an early tee time, I didn’t, and I woke up to this text basically telling me to shut up about LIV, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I was pretty offended and sent him back a couple of daggers and that was it.”

I’d encourage you to read the exchange with Kimmage in its entirety — even if that means an Independent subscription, at least for the day. I can’t think of anything else quite like it: An athlete at the peak of his powers speaking openly for hours on end about, well, everything. You’ll find that here.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com. The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.