Rory McIlroy has placed himself at the epicenter of the fracas between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf over the last several months, loudly and consistently declaring his allegiance to the PGA Tour. While none of his language around his personal future changed this week as he played the JP McManus Pro-Am in Ireland, the way he discussed the future of golf -- as a sport -- did shift a bit from where it's been in the past.
"It's messy," McIlroy said of the PGA Tour-LIV Golf divide. "I wish it hadn't have gotten that messy. In hindsight, I think there were probably steps that were missed that wouldn't have made it as messy. I think, in the long term, it will make the game better.
"Right now, there's this disruption that's happening. With disruption comes change and forced change, and I think this has just sort of forced the [PGA] Tour's hand a little bit. They're going to have to adapt and change, and I think that's what they're going to have to try and do."
The PGA Tour has already begun adapting and changing by announcing a revised big-money schedule as well as the addition of three events in the fall -- exclusive to top players --. They also created a smaller FedEx Cup Playoffs and developed more consequences for not making it into the top 70 by the end of the regular season.
McIlroy later agreed, when questioned, that ultimately there will have to be peace talks between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf.
"I think that needs to happen," he said. "There's so much chat about where the money is coming from and Saudi [Arabia] and everything else. They sponsor so many other things. They're all over sport. I understand people's reservations with everything, but at the same time, if these people are serious about investing billions of dollars into golf, I think ultimately that's a good thing.
"All the narrative is that it isn't good; it's splitting the game instead of everyone coming together. I think everyone needs to try to come together a little more."
LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman recently said he reached out to PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan to no avail.
"I've reached out to him by phone," said Norman during a Fox News appearance. "I've reached out, left messages. ... [The PGA Tour should give their] members the opportunity to have other places to go. They're independent contractors. They have every right to do that."
It's unclear what a future relationship between the three tours might look like or how that could impact the best players in the world, but it doesn't sound like McIlroy has any plans of moving away from the PGA Tour despite him empathizing with those who left.
"Defection is a strong word," said McIlroy when asked how he viewed golfers who moved to LIV Golf. "I understand why guys went, especially the guys who are in the latter stages of their career. If I was in their position, I'd seriously have to think about doing the same thing. I understand. Is there a difference of opinion? Yes, but I can argue with you about a certain thing [and] I'm still going to like you at the end of it.
"So, there's a difference of opinion. And I would have done things a little differently. I think, at this stage, if you go over and play on a different tour, then go and play on a different tour. I think this whole 'having your cake and eating it' type thing is what [created] the resentment ... within the membership. For me, I don't resent anyone. A lot of these guys are my friends, and they're still going to be my friends regardless of the decisions they make."
A host of top golfers have now left the PGA and DP World Tours to join the controversial LIV tour. It's funded by Saudi Arabia, a country with a poor human rights record. Rory McIlroy had his say - and told BBC Newsline he's disappointed it's descended into a legal dispute. pic.twitter.com/42CSnrIFnm— BBC Newsline (@bbcnewsline) July 5, 2022
McIlroy also made another comment that echoed something DP World Tour CEO Keith Pelley recently said.
"[Saudi oil company] Aramco are big sponsors of Formula One, the Aramco Ladies Series in golf, which has actually been really good for the ladies in terms of big prize funds and so on, so I understand people's reservations with everything," McIlroy explained, per the BBC.
"But at the same time, if these people are serious about investing billions of dollars into golf, I think ultimately that's a good thing. But it has to be done the right way, and I think if they were to invest, having it be invested inside the existing structures. And I think that's the thing I've tried to advocate for the last few months. I think at this point, if people are wanting to spend that much money into golf, that's wonderful. I just wish that we could have spent that much money within the structure that has existed for many decades in golf instead of being this big disruptor."
Though there will be a reprieve next week during the 150th Open Championship, this conversation will undoubtedly roll on into the fall and winter as the top players in the world try and sort out where they're playing and those running these three leagues try to make it all work.