The LIV reaction from Tour stars? Rory will watch — and suspensions are good

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy hits his tee shot on Thursday on the 14th hole at St. George's.

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Rory McIlroy, yes, will watch a replay. 

But, no, he won’t be wearing a Team Majesticks or Fireballs hat or shirt.

“What are the other ones, like Iron Heads? I have no idea,” McIlroy said. “Certainly not going out to buy any team merchandise any time soon.”

Call it a light moment in one of the most peculiar days in the history of professional golf, one that saw an alternative series beginning, unquantified suspensions being served — and the established tour rolling on. 

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Should you need to be caught up, the Saudi-funded LIV Invitational Series began play Thursday at the Centurion Club in London, and among its field were 17 players with affiliation with the PGA Tour. While the established brand could do nothing to stop the former, it took action on the latter, as it promised it would for months, when Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said via a note to its membership that all of the players would be suspended or “no longer eligible to participate in PGA Tour tournament play.”

Oh, and Tour golf was played Thursday, too — it’s Canadian Open week, and the thought of a Tour tournament going up against an upstart series with Tour players is the meat of all this commotion — and the action at St. George’s in Toronto did not entirely shield players from the other news of the day. 

Unsurprisingly, McIlroy and Justin Thomas backed their commish. Two of the Tour’s biggest stars were playing in Canada and not England, after all, and have also been pro-Tour for months. 

“I think at this point, Jay’s been pretty transparent in terms of he’s just going to act within the tournament regulations and the rules that are set for a PGA Tour member,” McIlroy said. “All he’s doing is basically going by the book.

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“I think that the majority of the membership that are here this week and that haven’t went and played elsewhere really appreciate that. So I think he’s done the right thing because these guys have broken rules and done things outside of the tournament regulations, and because of that, there are going to be consequences, I guess.”

Said Thomas: “I’m pleased. I think anybody that’s shocked clearly hasn’t been listening to the message that Jay and everybody’s been putting out. They took that risk going into it, whether they thought it was a risk or not.

“Like I’ve said the whole time, I have great belief and great confidence in the PGA Tour and where we’re going and continuing to grow to, and those guys just aren’t going to be a part of it.”

The questions now are speculative. 

What’s next? That question was even asked in the Tour’s note — along with “can these players come back” and “can they eventually play PGA Tour Champions” — and Monahan wrote there that “we’ll approach them [the questions] in the same way we have this entire process: by being transparent and respecting the PGA Tour regulations that you helped establish.” Notably, LIV itself responded to Monahan’s note with one of its own, saying that it’s “vindictive and it deepens the divide between the Tour and its members. … This is certainly not the last word on this topic.” 

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Unknown, too, with one day in the books — and seven more events this year — is whether more Tour players join. Earlier in the week, McIlroy believed that the battle would “fracture the game.” On Thursday, Thomas wasn’t sure how things would unfold. 

“They’re obviously throwing so much money at people that it’s very hard to turn down,” he said. “I don’t care what you say in terms of that people play for different reasons. It doesn’t matter who you are or what it is; everything has a number. They’re reaching that number for some people, and I hope that they don’t get others. But I think a very strong core group of us is very stable and firm in our position, and I hope that it stays that way.”

Then there is the potential awkwardness between Tour players and LIV players; both will be in attendance next week at the U.S. Open after the USGA announced on Tuesday that it would not ban those playing in the Saudi series. Earlier this week, though, Thomas said he wouldn’t expect to treat players differently — “I don’t dislike D.J. [Dustin Johnson] now. I don’t think he’s a bad dude. I’m not going to treat him any differently. It’s like he’s entitled to choose as he wishes — and he stuck to that theme on Thursday. 

“I saw D.J. last week at home, and it was fine,” Thomas said. “I would say a lot of guys, myself included, aren’t at a U.S. Open to socialize. I’m not there to have a conversation and catch up. I’m sure it will be awkward. When I saw D.J. last week, I didn’t know what to say, if it was a congrats or a bye or whatever it was.

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“It is what it is. I think we’re all grown-ups, and we understand there’s going to be some guys you can make some jokes to and some guys you have to leave it alone, but in the end, we’re all there to win a major.”

But that’s next week’s concern. And this week still has another question.

Would McIlroy watch LIV events? 

“I think like everyone else, I’m intrigued and I’m a fan of golf,” he said. “I’ve got quite a few guys over there that I call friends that are playing. Yeah, of course I’ll see it and watch it and see what all the fuss is about.”

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