Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Rory McIlroy speaks with reporters during a news conference ahead of the RBC Canadian Open golf tournament on June 7, 2023.Dan Hamilton/Reuters

Golf champion Rory McIlroy framed the blockbuster deal between the PGA Tour and the upstart LIV Golf as a sad but almost inevitable turn of events in a global sports ecosystem in which Saudi Arabian money has become too powerful to resist.

“Whether you like it or not, the PIF were going to keep spending the money in golf,” he said during a news conference at the RBC Canadian Open on Wednesday morning, referring to Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which has approximately US$620-billion in assets.

“At least the PGA Tour now controls how that money is spent. So, you know, if you’re thinking about one of the biggest sovereign wealth funds in the world, would you rather have them as a partner or an enemy? At the end of the day, money talks and you would rather have them as a partner.”

PGA Tour, European tour agree to merge with Saudis and end LIV Golf feud

McIlroy spoke less than 24 hours after news broke of the agreement between the two bitter antagonists, in which the not-for-profit PGA Tour and PGA European Tour create a new for-profit entity with the PIF headed by PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and chaired by PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan.

The stunning announcement dominated interviews for the second day in a row with players gearing up for this week’s tournament, marking the second consecutive Canadian Open to be overshadowed by the PGA Tour-LIV drama after last year’s edition coincided with LIV’s inaugural tournament.

“It’s unfortunate timing for the news that we got yesterday,” Canadian golfer Corey Conners said. “Last year, there was a lot going on in the golf world during this week. So I definitely feel for RBC.”

“Back-to-back years,” said Canadian golfer Mackenzie Hughes, who admitted he was “blindsided” by the developments. “It does distract you.”

McIlroy is playing this week for his third consecutive Canadian Open title, after winning the 2019 and 2022 editions. (The 2020 and 2021 tournaments were scuttled because of the pandemic.)

As one of golf’s most vocal opponents against LIV’s disruptions, McIlroy acknowledged he could understand why fans and others might be upset at the turn of events. In particular, Monahan had used incendiary language against LIV and the Saudis to convince his membership to stay onside.

“I said it to Jay yesterday: You’ve galvanized everyone against something, and that thing that you galvanized everyone against you’ve now partnered with. So, yeah, of course I understand it. It is hypocritical. It sounds hypocritical,” he said.

Still, McIlroy insisted the new venture does not – contrary to reports – involve LIV, but is rather a new enterprise with LIV’s financial backers.

“It’s not LIV. I think that’s the thing. I still hate LIV. Like, I hate LIV. Like, I hope it goes away. And I would fully expect that it does. And I think that’s where the distinction here is. This is the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour and the PIF. Very different from LIV.”

He added that, with the structure of the new company, “technically anyone that is involved with LIV now would answer to Jay. So the PGA Tour have control of everything.”

McIlroy admitted that his fellow players were upset during a meeting Tuesday afternoon with Monahan, held on the grounds of the Oakdale Golf and Country Club, where the RBC Canadian Open will be played this week. That discontent spurred questions about whether the PGA Tour members still support Monahan in his position.

“I do have confidence in him,” McIlroy said. Still, he acknowledged that after players had stood by the PGA Tour over the past year, resisting the multimillion-dollar enticements offered by LIV with the conviction that they had the moral high ground, the rank-and-file remain angry.

“There still has to be consequences to actions. The people that left the PGA Tour irreparably harmed this tour, started litigation against it. We can’t just welcome them back in. That’s not going to happen. And I think that was the one thing that Jay was trying to get across yesterday, saying, guys, we’re not just going to bring these guys back in and pretend like nothing’s happened. That is not going to happen.”

Still, he acknowledged that the new deal is unfolding against a landscape in which the PIF and other Saudi financial interests have pushed their way into Western sports enterprises, including the English Premier League, and leagues have been all but helpless to respond.

“I’ve come to terms with it. I see what’s happened in other sports. I see what’s happened in other businesses,” he replied. “And, honestly, I’ve just resigned myself to the fact that this is what’s going to happen. It’s very hard to keep up with people that have more money than anyone else.”

“Whether you like it or not, the PIF and the Saudis want to spend money in the game of golf. They want to do this. And they weren’t going to stop. The thing for me – and this is the one thing that I’ve always thought about – how can we get that money into the game, but use it the right way? And I think that’s what this ultimately will do, hopefully I mean, that’s my hope.”

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe