LIV Golf Update – Perhaps Rory McIlroy Needs to Zip It?

Rory McIlroy has recently become a regular commentator on the evils and flaws of LIV Golf. With the BMW PGA championship underway at the Wentworth Club, he is gaining considerable, and repetitive, media mileage out of criticising the rival tour and the players that have signed on for it. His caustic remarks that LIV’s appeal is for ‘’people interested in a soap opera’’, and that the presence of his LIV former teammates and friends at the BMW PGA are ‘’hard to stomach’’ for him. McIlroy is in danger of becoming tiresome, repetitive and destructive. Players like Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia have been in the Ryder Cup trenches with McIlroy for many years. McIlroy tearfully broke down at the last Ryder Cup in 2021 professing the depth of his love for his vanquished teammates. His love is clearly a short-term emotion.

LIV players like Poulter (46), Westwood (49), and Garcia (42) that McIlroy is mocking unfairly are clearly near the end of their competitive careers, and in that uncomfortable twilight zone before they qualify for the Champions Tour. For these three players competing in the US from the age of 50 would involve cost, possible relocation and family upheaval. In their shoes, is it not completely understandable that they would jump at accepting the huge sign on fees and security that Greg Norman has delivered to them via LIV?

McIlroy, and some of his equally outspoken non-LIV colleagues, are also ignoring the fact that, for now at least, the law is on the side of the LIV players. In July a UK arbitration judge suspended sanctions and fines against the breakaway players and cleared the way for them to play DP World Tour events, including the Scottish Open and PGA this weekend. A ruling will be handed down by a panel of five arbitrators in February next year that will give an indication to the two major world tours what the players legal positions are likely to be in the future. The players are independent contractors after all – not employees.

The initial legal challenge was fronted by three golfers, including Poulter, and is eerily like the action mounted by three cricketers (Tony Greig, John Snow and Mike Procter) in 1977. The cricketers won that one hands down. It took only two years for sanity to prevail and for cricket to become a united sport again.

Lee Westwood’s contention that the DP World Tour ‘’should have accepted an offer from Saudi Arabia in 2021 that they insist would have amounted to more than $1 billion’’ now seems eminently sensible. Keith Pelley, CEO of the DP World tour is now mired in division and litigation and may be regretting his decision.

Litigation based on anti-trust law and competition law has also been commenced in the US against the PGA Tour.

As a predictable sideshow LIV’s Saudi funder has justifiably come under fire for human rights abuses. However, is the PGA Tour really that squeaky clean? Golf in America has a long, relatively recent, history of lack of diversity. No Masters invitation was extended to a Black player until 1975 and it was not until 1983 that Augusta National abandoned the policy of Black only club caddies at the event. In 2020 the New York Times commented ‘’golf in America has historically practised segregation by class, gender, race and religion’’. There are now only two Black players active on the PGA Tour – Cameron Champ and Joseph Bramlett. Tiger Woods’ future is uncertain, and Harold Varner III has gone over to LIV.

Greg Norman has steadily built momentum for LIV in recruiting a very talented stable of players, who have accumulated over 20 majors between them. Many of the LIV recruits are recent major champions.  Players like Dustin Johnston, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Bryson De Chambeau, Phil Mickleson and Cameron Smith have all won majors since 2014 - the year of McIlroy’s last major win. The Irishman is in an eight-year drought in the majors. Granted, he won the FedEx Cup in fine style this year – but the LIV players were banned from the event, and a golfer’s legacy is surely measured in major wins?

Cameron Smith has obviously been the most significant recent signing for Norman with his July Open win. His flawless eight-birdie last round of 64 made McIlroy’s two-birdie 70 look lacklustre under final-round pressure over the Old Course where three LIV players featured in the top 10. (Smith, Johnson and DeChambeau)  

It is tempting to comment that McIlroy should be concentrating on communicating with his clubs, not via frequent and divisive lectures on his view of LIV Golf. He seems intent on burning bridges with many of his former close friends and teammates. It is conceivable that, if golf follows the 1977 cricket precedent, all the top professional golfers may be back freely playing on whatever tours they choose to in the not-so-distant future.

There could be some interesting pairings and rather awkward moments at Wentworth this week.