Rory McIlroy says he ‘would retire’ if LIV Golf was only option
GULLANE, Scotland — Over the last 18 months, we’ve heard Rory McIlroy say a lot of things about LIV Golf. He declared it “dead in the water” back in February 2022. He later admitted he got that wrong. In July, he said he believed “there’s no room in the golf world for LIV Golf.” That was his opinion. He didn’t like what it was.
In November, he was asked if a peace accord could take place and laid out two hurdles. The lawsuits would have to be settled and Greg Norman would have to “exit stage left” as LIV’s leader. That first box is now checked. That second? Not yet, at least.
In recent months, McIlroy turned down the volume. In May, he said he intended to leave any LIV narrative aside, just a few weeks ahead of the stunning reversal that will see the PGA Tour look to partner with LIV’s parent, the Saudi PIF. A day later, McIlroy took to the stage for a press conference, from which came another headliner of a quote: “I still hate LIV. Like, I hate LIV.” He still hoped it would go away.
In a landscape filled with unanswered questions, his distaste for LIV has never wavered. And yet, questions about it persist because, well, more context continues to surface. In the last two weeks alone, hundreds of pages of documents have revealed internal PGA Tour messaging during the battle with LIV, as well as the crucial, confidential negotiations between the PGA Tour and PIF in reaching a Framework Agreement. Intentions are clear from the investigation: LIV Golf will continue in some undetermined capacity. Beyond that, everything is in flux. So, what does McIlroy think now? He has limited his press availability over the last month.
In the moments after his first round at the Genesis Scottish Open, he was in a jovial mood. You couldn’t blame him, after carding a six-birdie, one-eagle 64. He hasn’t always had a great go-around Renaissance Club, but this was a fresh start. He admitted that he’s had a bit of a reset on his season in recent weeks, going 10 days after the Travelers Championship without touching his golf clubs. He only played a couple rounds before Thursday’s hot start. Eventually, LIV and the proposed partnership came up.
“As long as I get to play golf, I’m happy,” McIlroy said. “Quite a bit of apathy toward everything at the minute.” He talked quietly as he said it, and seemed perfectly content to leave the discussion there. That’s what apathy looks like. He said he checked out a bit of the information that came from the Senate hearing and investigation documents this week, but that it’s been “nice to be able to try and distance myself a bit.”
Buried within those documents was another headline-inducing piece of info: LIV Golf’s initial proposal for a partnership included the idea of McIlroy (and Tiger Woods) owning LIV teams and playing at least 10 LIV events a year. It was merely a single bullet point of many ideas shared, and also one of a few that were quickly shot down by Tour officials, according to a source familiar with the negotiation. But the mere idea of the proposal must have been intriguing to McIlroy, no? The question followed.
How did you feel about them possibly making you a team captain?
McIlroy ran his hands across his face in that moment and let out a sigh. “If LIV Golf was the last place on Earth to play golf, I would retire,” McIlroy said. “That’s how I feel about it.”
“Yeah,” McIlroy said. “I’d play the majors. I’d be pretty comfortable.”
It’s an eye-catching quote but there’s depth to it, too. It’s a reminder that throughout the saga, his opinion of LIV Golf, from “dead in the water” to “I would retire,” really hasn’t changed. His acknowledged his approach has shifted slightly, though.
“I think the thing that I’ve realized, no matter what I do or say or try to show leadership, I’m going to be just fine,” McIlroy said. “I’ve tried to step up for the guys who didn’t have a voice early on. But I think with everything that’s transpired over the last few weeks, the players are going to find themselves more and more at the table to try to get whatever that is that they want out of it.”
That will take more than weeks. It will take months. Months and months. His opportunities to speak won’t go away, but McIlroy seems most comfortable keeping those opportunities to a minimum. Fewer questions in scrums with reporters. Fewer press conferences, even. His obligations may decrease while the demands for answers from PGA Tour management continues to increase. This week’s hearing is not likely to be the only one.
As the future of pro golf shakes itself out, McIlroy seems intent on avoiding the noise — that’s what he’s apathetic toward — and moving exclusively at his own pace. He’s fought hard for the PGA Tour’s status quo and now is comfy simply fighting for his own status quo, first and foremost.
“As long as the tournaments that I play keep on existing,” he said, “I’ll be very happy to play them and be a professional golfer and try to get a little bit closer every day to try and master my craft.”