Rory McIlroy’s LIV approach? In hindsight, he’d do 1 thing differently

Rory McIlroy at the RBC Canadian Open.

Rory McIlroy at the 2024 RBC Canadian Open.

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A year after he called LIV Golf “dead in the water,” Rory McIlroy had something interesting to say about regret.

McIlroy’s initial missive had come at the 2022 Genesis Invitational, when Phil Mickelson’s explosive comments about the new Saudi league rippled through the golf world and caused many top pros — Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm among them — to double down their loyalty to the PGA Tour. Lacking the participation of any big names, the fledgling league’s chances seemed dire.

At the Genesis, McIlroy ripped Mickelson’s remarks as “naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant,” among other things. He also said he saw no path forward for LIV.

“I mean, there’s no one [that will go],” he said. “It’s dead in the water, in my opinion. I just can’t see any reason why anyone would go.”

A year later, at the 2023 Genesis, I asked McIlroy whether he regretted being so dismissive, knowing how much talent LIV had ripped from the Tour in the season that had followed. But he shook his head.

“No, not at all,” he said. “I can admit when I’m wrong, and jeez, I’ve been wrong a ton about a lot of stuff. But I just didn’t see it. I just took some of the comments at face value and was like, okay, well, it doesn’t seem like people are interested.”

That led to a follow-up. Given McIlroy’s willingness to speak his mind throughout his career, does he regret anything he’s said? Like, ever?

“Not really,” he said. “Because I’m pretty good at admitting when I’m wrong, and being like, look, hand up. I was wrong, or maybe uninformed or misguided or whatever.”

He recalled a stir that had followed his comments about the Ryder Cup some decade-plus earlier, which he’d dismissed as “an exhibition” as a 20-year-old Irish sensation.

“I’d never played in a Ryder Cup, so it was a very uninformed opinion,” he said. “But that’s all it was — an opinion. None of us are going to go through life without making mistakes, and I probably know that more than most people, but I’m fine with saying sorry, I was wrong. And having to actually learn and grow from it? I dunno, maybe that’s a good thing. So, no regrets.”

No regrets. That’s the bit that stuck with me.

Things changed after that. They changed for McIlroy and they changed for the Tour and they changed for the relationship between the two. Specifically they changed the week of the 2023 RBC Canadian Open, when the bombshell PIF-PGA Tour-DP World Tour framework agreement — in hindsight, an agreement that yielded more questions than answers and whose outcome remains uncertain — added a new murky chapter to the fight for professional golf supremacy. And they left McIlroy feeling a bit hung out to dry. “Sacrificial lamb” was one phrase he used.

Wednesday brought McIlroy’s Wednesday press conference ahead of this year’s RBC Canadian Open. Thinking back on the past two Canadian Opens — the 2022 edition coincided with the first LIV event, while the 2023 edition brought the framework agreement — one reporter asked McIlroy to reflect on his participation in the PGA Tour’s fight with LIV.

“I think, in hindsight, I wish I hadn’t have gotten involved, or not ‘hadn’t have gotten involved,’ but hadn’t have gotten as deeply involved in it, and I’ve articulated that,” McIlroy said. “I’ve said that I certainly, I hold no grudge, I hold no resentment over the guys that chose to go and play on LIV. Everyone’s got their own decisions to make and everyone has the right to make those decisions.

“My whole thing is I’m just disappointed to what it’s done to — not to the game of golf, the game of golf will be fine — but men’s professional golf and this sort of divide we have at the minute. Hopefully we’re on a path to sorting that out and getting that to come back together, but, yeah, I mean, hindsight’s always 20/20, but in hindsight I wish I hadn’t have gotten as deeply involved as I have.”

Does that constitute regret? It seems to fit the definition, though McIlroy may see it differently: He said what he believed at the time, the situation has changed and he’s changed with it. Oddly enough, McIlroy is now attempting to be a bridge between the two sides, as he’s the loudest voice in the game calling for a resolution between the tours. In recent weeks McIlroy has sought a more official role again; he resigned his post on the Policy Board last fall but offered to take it back up this spring in Webb Simpson’s place. That didn’t pan out but he’ll be a non-voting member of the Tour’s transactions subcommittee, which is in charge of ongoing negotiations with the PIF. Hindsight or not, he clearly still wants to be involved.

That’s all happening in the background as McIlroy makes his return to a golf course where he has fond memories: The RBC Canadian Open is back at Hamilton Golf and Country Club for the first time since 2019, when McIlroy shot a Sunday 61 to blitz the field.

“Yeah, it feels good to be back,” McIlroy said. “It was my first Canadian Open and I was blown away by just the enthusiasm that the fans have, and it was such a great atmosphere to play in.”

He cites that Sunday as among the most electric of his career and event admits some disappointment: Had he birdied No. 18 he would have shot a finishing 59 but made bogey for 61 instead.

“Not that I still think about it,” he said with a grin.

The Canadian Open wasn’t held in 2020 or 2021 due to the Covid pandemic but resumed in 2022 at St George’s; McIlroy won that year, too. Last year he was on his way to the airport after a T9 finish when he heard Nick Taylor’s dramatic winning putt on the radio.

“Full disclosure, I was hoping Tommy [Fleetwood] would get his first PGA Tour win, but Nick had other plans,” McIlroy said, referring to Taylor’s playoff opponent. “But yeah, just absolutely incredible. The fact that a Canadian hadn’t won this National Open in 60-something years, and the way that Nick did it, that putt at the end, the scene, like, just all of it.”

It’s been a complex few weeks for McIlroy. He played an incredible final route en route to a blowout win on Sunday at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow on May 13th. On May 14th, he filed for divorce. He showed up at the PGA Championship the day after that, though he declined to speak on his personal life and laid relatively low all week. After a T12 finish at Valhalla he flew to Italy for the wedding of an old friend. He sounded refreshed by that event.

“Good to see a lot of people from home I haven’t seen in a long time,” he said. “Yeah, it was actually a really good trip, I needed it.

“Then I had a lovely, I had a great weekend at home. Spent time with my family and with Poppy and, yeah, it was awesome. So I needed that reset.”

Things will stay busy; McIlroy plans to play each of the next four weeks. Following the Canadian Open he’ll head to the Memorial and then the U.S. Open followed by the Travelers Championship.

“It’s been a busy stretch and I’m sort of easing my way back into it,” he said. “I probably hit a grand total of probably 150 balls last week. So, not that I feel rusty, I feel like I’ve played enough golf to keep myself [ready], but, yeah, last week was a good week to just reset and sort of start again.”

He’ll have plenty of reasons to keep looking ahead.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/ 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.

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