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08th Jun 2023

One of Rory McIlroy’s final press conference answers painted a bleak sporting future

Patrick McCarry

“Yeah, look, it was heated.”

Rory McIlroy garnered plenty of headlines, and barbs from disgruntled players and reporters, when he skipped media duties and went to ground after missing the cut at The Masters.

What made it such a story is that McIlroy rarely shirks the tough questions and is renowned for laying himself bare with a live microphone (or 12) stuck right in front of him.

As soon as news broke, on Tuesday, or a PGA Tour business partnership with the Saudi Public Investment Fund [PIF], which has thrown professional golf into a tizzy, most of us wondered when Rory McIlroy would share his thoughts. McIlroy and Tiger Woods are the two biggest names in golf right now, and Woods’ catalogue of injuries and ailments means he is very much inactive, and out of the spotlight, for large chunks of the year.

Justin Thomas, Billy Horschel, Max Homa and Jordan Spieth have all gone to bat for the PGA Tour ever since the emergence of rival tour, LIV Golf but Woods and McIlroy lead the vanguard. So it was that McIlroy’s Wednesday morning press briefing at the Canadian Open was a standing-room-only event.

As he so often does, McIlroy took every question as it was presented to him and gave his open, honest thoughts on the matter. It was not all perfect from the four-time major winner and you sense he will have to swallow a lot of bitter medicine about doing business with the PIF, but he did not try to avoid any tough issues or queries.

In the long run, McIlroy feels that as uneasy as he feels right now, it is better to be in business with the Saudis than haemorrhaging money through the courts as top golf stars are picked off the PGA and DP World Tour rosters. He dislikes how the business arrangement – yet to be fully ratified or sealed – has come about but hopes golf ultimately benefits.

There was one of his final answers, though, that shows where professional sport is in relation to the likes of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and big investor groups, glomming on.

Rory McIlroyRory McIlroy speaks to the media after playing in the Pro-Am of the RBC Canadian Open, at Oakdale Golf and Country Club, in Toronto. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy’s press conference admission

11 questions and 14 minutes into his press briefing, at Oakdale Golf and Country Club, Rory McIlroy was asked a pertinent question about where professional sports might be heading.

McIlroy is a fan of Manchester United, Ulster and the Irish rugby team, and can often be found at NBA and NFL games during his down-time. The Saudi PIF, which set up LIV Golf to rival the PGA Tour, also owns Newcastle United and has bought up the four biggest football teams in its’ own country.

“Is there a bit of you that’s still uncomfortable with just how cozy Saudi Arabia and their money is now in golf?” McIlroy was asked by a reporter. “A lot of people would say that it controls a hell of a lot of golf.”

“I’ve come to terms with it,” McIlroy conceded.

“I see what’s happened in other sports. I see what’s happened in other businesses. And, honestly, I’ve just resigned myself to the fact that this is, you know, this is what’s going to happen. Like this is — it’s very hard to keep up with people that have more money than anyone else. And, again, if they want to put that money into the game of golf, then why don’t we partner with them and make sure that it’s done in the right way. And that’s sort of where my head’s at.”

When you have one of the best and most recognisable, and respected, golfers of his generation almost conceding the sports-washing fight, it is a bleak prospect.

“Money talks,” mused McIlroy, and there is no other way to look at it.

He was also asked about the “heated” players meeting, on Tuesday night, which saw calls for PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan to resign.

“People were surprised,” McIlroy reflected. “People felt like they were in the dark about all this.

“Look, most of the gripes come from the guys that are, you know, trying to hold onto their cards. And they feel like things have already been taken away from them this year with the designated events and smaller fields and no cuts and weighted FedExCup points for the larger events with the stronger fields. So they were already feeling somewhat vulnerable.

“Then, whenever this news is brought about, there’s only going to be one reaction to that. And I understand that. And, honestly, it’s hard for me to relate to those guys, because I’ve never been in that position. I try to empathise with it, but it’s hard for me to relate to them fully, but I certainly empathise with their point of view.”

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