Rory McIlroy called LIV ‘dead in the water.’ Here’s what he thinks now
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Rory McIlroy stood on the 10th tee at Riviera Country Club on Wednesday afternoon and reached back in time.
A year ago this week, LIV’s plans appeared to go up in flames. Rumors swirled during practice rounds about a significant number of PGA Tour pros ready to make the leap to the mysterious Saudi-backed league — but it all came crashing down on Thursday morning, when Phil Mickelson’s explosive comments changed everyone’s calculus.
A number of top pros, from Jon Rahm to Collin Morikawa to Xander Schauffele, made statements declaring their loyalty to the PGA Tour. After Mickelson’s comments, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau made statements, too. As for McIlroy? He didn’t hold back, ripping 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.”
The question for McIlroy, then: Does he regret being so dismissive a year ago?
“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.”
One year later, LIV is a very real entity. Next week will mark the first event of its first full season. Phil Mickelson will tee it up at LIV’s Mayakoba event, as will DeChambeau, Johnson and a host of other former PGA Tour pros. If rumors hold true, at least one pro in the Genesis Invitational will be announced as a LIV commit mid-tournament. On Wednesday afternoon, the first of those names, Mito Pereira and Sebastian Munoz, were announced. The tension continues.
Its future is uncertain, of course. But McIlroy didn’t anticipate it getting this far with this many players. And there was a point last summer, he admitted, when he wondered just how wrong he’d been.
“Whenever the LIV guys played in like, Boston and Chicago I had a moment of like — ‘Oh s—. People are turning up and might actually sort of be into this,'” he said. “But I think it was more a novelty thing than anything else, and now the novelty has worn off.
“I’m also much more confident about where things are. With all the stuff that went on [at a Tour player meeting] in Delaware and the changes we’ve made, I think we’re trending in a much better direction. Look, competition is a good thing. It probably caused the PGA Tour to make changes a little quicker than they usually do. And ultimately that’s a good thing for everyone that plays out here.”
McIlroy’s inclination to speak his mind has always made him a lightning rod for headlines, so I was curious: 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 an old stir that followed his comments about the Ryder Cup, 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.”
McIlroy is coming off a rare down week at the WM Phoenix Open, finishing outside the top 10 for the first time in his last nine worldwide starts. (He finished T32.) On Wednesday he teed off in the dark in a cold, windy 6:40 a.m. pro-am time. His beanie and sweater were no challenge for the biting north wind, nor was his 3-wood: a club that typically flies 290 yards flew just 190 into a snarling gust on No. 9, to the delight of caddie Harry Diamond.
McIlroy seemed to take solace in the hopelessness of the day’s conditions. There was likely nothing to learn, he said, given the extremity of the wind and the fact that it will come from a completely different direction for Round 1. Conversation instead shifted to his recent pastimes: TV — he just finished watching Succession — and Irish film; a recent favorite is The Banshees of Inisherin.
“Ohh, the Banshees. That’s deep. That’s very deep,” he said.
A quick plot summary is necessary to set up the joke that follows; in Banshees, one main character is so tired of his best friend’s company that he tells him he’ll cut off one of his own fingers every time he speaks to him going forward.
“One of my friends said to me that I need to tell Patrick Reed the same thing,” McIlroy said with a grin.
Fingers intact (for now), McIlroy is delighted to be in town for the Genesis. Los Angeles is likely his favorite U.S. city, Riviera is among his favorite courses and — last week excepted — this is his most consistent stretch of golf in years. Scottie Scheffler winning in Phoenix meant McIlroy has lost his World No. 1 ranking, but he could regain it with a victory this week.
He’s also eager to take his focus from the product of the PGA Tour (he said the word “product” seven times in a post-round media session) and back to his primary occupation.
“I knew going into this year that it was going to be — maybe not quite a repeat of last year, but there’s still a lot of stuff that needs to be decided,” he said post-round. “For better or for worse, I’m part of that conversation, I’m on the board of the Tour, and I need to be a part of it.”
On Thursday, McIlroy will tee off alongside Justin Thomas plus the tournament host, Tiger Woods. That should keep him plenty busy for now.