It was only fitting that the next morning after LIV Golf announced its first field, de facto PGA Tour spokesperson Rory McIlroy sat down at a press conference at one of the highlights of his circuit.
The launch of LIV came on Tuesday evening, when the Saudi-backed separatist constituency sent the names of 42 professionals who will compete in its inaugural event outside London from June 9-11. Dustin Johnson took first on the field, which also included many of McIlroy’s longtime Ryder Cup teammates including Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood.
McIlroy’s response came Wednesday morning at the Memorial Championships, addressing the media after a nine-hole pro morning run. He spoke distinctly candid, explaining the reasons some players left and reflecting on his financial transformation even as he reaffirmed his commitment to the highest golf course.
On the other hand, McIlroy said he was not particularly impressed with the list of names that was dropped on Tuesday.
“Maybe I would say indifference is the way I describe it,” he said. “A couple of surprises there, I guess. … but I definitely don’t think the field can jump up and down. Look at the field this week. Look at the field next week in Canada. They are proper golf tournaments.”
Those statements were a reminder that although LIV has scored several golfers with important careers – including Masters like Johnson and Garcia, former world number one Westwood, Martin Kaymer and current world number 20 Louis Oosthuizen – the segment still remains. The greatest of the game’s talent is on the PGA Tour, with LIV stretching into obscurity to fill his initial field.
But McIlroy added that he also has “very close friends” playing the London event, and has no interest in standing in their way.
“It’s not something I do personally. But I definitely understand why some players are going, and it’s something we’ll all be watching and seeing over the next few weeks.”
Why do men go? Two reasons in particular: secured money and lots of it. While the PGA Tour offers lucrative weekly opportunities, money is not guaranteed – and competition is fierce. McIlroy outlined a compelling case for why aging or limited-status professionals have fallen out of the PGA Tour ranks.
“You know, you have some guys in a position where they literally don’t guarantee they will get a job next year. It’s hard to stay in the top 125. [on the PGA Tour]Especially when you’re a guy in your forties and you might not hit the ball as often as you’re used to.
“As we’ve seen, it’s a youngster’s game nowadays. So there’s someone who isn’t guaranteed their round card next year, another entity comes in and says, ‘We’ll guarantee you that for three years, plus you’re playing for a lot of prize money, and you’re playing events Less, you get to spend more time with your family.I mean, when you sit down and look at some of this stuff, you know, it’s very attractive to some of these guys who are in this situation.
“Again, I’m not in that position, and that’s not something I’d do. But you know, you should at least try to put yourself in other people’s shoes and see where they come from.”
What comes next is the PGA Tour’s response to players who openly ignore their insistence that the event not be played. It remains to be seen how harsh her punishments will be for the pros playing LIV events. What disturbs these waters is the tour’s strategic alliance with the DP World Tour, which has less money and less star power and thus operates with less clout. McIlroy hinted at a seemingly inevitable legal battle that will determine how and when the Tour can respond.
“I definitely don’t think [the PGA Tour] McIlroy said. “Look, they have their rights to enforce the rules and regulations that have been put in place. But there will be — you know, it will end up being an argument about what those rules and regulations are.”
Explaining his rejection of LIV’s offers, McIlroy has made clear in recent months that he is not playing for money at this point in his career. He chases trophies and legacy, and despite his accumulated wealth, “I still use the same three or four rooms in my house.” But he admitted that his motivations to play had changed over his 15 years as a professional.
“When I became a professional, I was playing for money,” he said. “I wanted to keep my card. I remember playing the Spanish Open in 2007 as an amateur, and the year before one of my really close amateur golf friends, Oliver Fisher, went pro and got a European Tour card. And we went out to dinner one night in Madrid and before heading out For dinner, I looked at the European Tour’s Medal of Merit and saw that he made 200K that year.And I said, ‘Oh my God, 200K, that’s unbelievable.’ the man loader. ”
When McIlroy became a professional, he didn’t go straight to the top level; He did not play the PGA Tour events and was not in most majors. His goal was simple: he wanted to make a living playing professional golf.
“Like, the first thing I did when I got my tour ticket was buy myself a house,” he said. “You need a job and you need to earn money to buy a house for yourself.
“There are a lot of different parts to this. Do I play golf for money now? No. My situation has changed over the years. But when I started playing the game professionally, yes, money was at the top of the list.”
There are nuggets buried in those stories. For one thing, McIlroy said the house cost “about £600,000,” and that he took out a good deal of the mortgage. “That’s right before the crash. So, I took a five percent cut and just paid off the interest. I got it for free, basically. Like everyone else at the time,” he said.
This is a reminder of the time when the 33-year-old McIlroy was playing professional golf; He became a professional nearly half of his life in 2007 at the age of 18. As for the house? His parents still own it and reside there when they return to their home in Northern Ireland.
As for that friend, Oliver Fisher, with whom McIlroy had dinner? He was a young talent from London who turned pro in 2006. He has been playing on the DP World Tour ever since, winning the 2011 Czech Open, competing a few other times and winning one major tournament, the 2013 Open Championship. He peaked at number 161 in the world but is currently at number 979 and has missed 38 of his last 47 cuts globally.
He’s scheduled to play his first LIV event next week.