Rory McIlroy has completely changed his tune about LIV Golf, saying that professional golf can only move forward together.
His transformative comments come days before his PGA Tour season debut at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the second Signature Event of the 2024 season.
LIV Golf will begin its 2024 season at Mayakoba in Mexico this weekend, meaning the best players in the world will not compete alongside one another.
“Guys made choices to go and play LIV; guys made choices to stay [on the PGA Tour],” McIlroy said Tuesday.
“If people still have eligibility on this tour and want to come back and play, or you want to try and do something, let them come back.”
Those final four words are a stark departure from where McIlroy appeared to stand on the issue not too long ago.
Since the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) launched LIV in 2022, the PIF has signed dozens of high-profile players for millions of dollars to help create prestige and notoriety. It also wanted to rival the PGA Tour.
Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, and Dustin Johnson originally went to LIV, while Cameron Smith and others later followed suit.
Then, this past December, Jon Rahm signed an earth-shattering deal with LIV for north of $400 million. Tyrell Hatton then followed him and joined the Saudi-backed circuit this week for $63 million.
In response, the PGA Tour immediately suspended and banned any player who joined the Saudi-backed circuit. They have not been allowed back on the PGA Tour since.
Meanwhile, LIV players have seen their salaries grow exponentially, as they have had to play only 14 events annually. Some LIV golfers still have eligibility in the majors, too. Since its onset, LIV has employed an international schedule with a 54-hole, shotgun start format.
Critics have called it an “exhibition,” while Ernie Els has even referred to it as “Circus golf.”
Last June, McIlroy echoed these sentiments, admitting that he “hated LIV.”
A month later, McIlroy doubled down, saying, “If LIV Golf were the last place to play golf on Earth, I would retire.” He declared this before last year’s Genesis Scottish Open in July, a tournament he went on to win.
Fast forward seven months and McIlroy has reversed his stance. He has admitted to doing so, too.
“I think it’s hard to punish people. I don’t think there should be a punishment for [going to LIV],” McIlroy added Tuesday.
“I’ve changed my tune on that because I see where golf is. Having a diminished PGA Tour and a diminished LIV Tour or anything else is bad for both parties. It would be much better to be together and move forward together for the good of the game. That’s my opinion of it.”
This week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am features 10 of the top 11 players in the Official World Golf Rankings, with Rahm being the outlier.
Despite that, LIV Golf has decimated the PGA Tour’s product, as the sport has never been so fractured.
McIlroy knows that. He even admitted that winning this week would not carry as much weight as it once used to.
“I’d like to win here and stand up with a trophy on 18 green and know that I’ve beaten all of the best players in the world,” McIlroy said.
“To me, the faster that we can all get back together and start to play and start to have the strongest fields possible would be great for golf.”
Of course, the PGA Tour, DP World Tour, and the Saudi PIF are holding discussions on what the future of golf will look like.
Yet, the PGA Tour recently accepted a $3 billion investment from a consortium of American professional sports owners. That deal could jeopardize any agreement with the PIF, which in turn, could keep golf divided.
“We are in a different [spot] than a year ago because we’re potentially about to do a deal with PIF, who owns the large majority of LIV, and hopefully we see things come back together here at some point,” McIlroy said.
“I think the nature of the conversation is probably different than it would have been a year ago.”