Rory McIlroy Is Falling In Line, Whether He's Happy or Not

toronto, canada june 07 rory mcilroy of northern ireland speaks to the media after playing in the pro am of the rbc canadian open at oakdale golf and country club on june 07, 2023 in toronto, ontario, canada photo by vaughn ridleygetty images
Rory Is Falling In Line, Whether He's Happy or NotVaughn Ridley - Getty Images
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Rory McIlroy addressed the media for just over 20 minutes on Wednesday, not just as the defending champion of the RBC Heritage but as the unofficial face of the PGA Tour's ongoing battle with the Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) and LIV Golf over the past year.

McIlroy's response to yesterday's news that the Tour would be partnering with the PIF— ending a year-long civil war in the golf world—was highly anticipated. He's clearly one of the best players the sport has ever seen. But his role in the drama went way beyond his credentials on the course. As the LIV-PGA Tour drama unfolded over the past year, McIlroy had emerged not only as the voice of the players on the matter, but also perhaps the most prominent public spokesperson from any corner of the golf universe on behalf of the PGA Tour and what it was trying to preserve.

“I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to make it my business now to be as much of a pain in his arse as possible,’” McIlroy told Golf Digest in December 2022, while discussing his distaste for LIV figurehead Greg Norman. McIlroy also told Dan Rapaport, then of Golf Digest, that he "didn't see the value in tarnishing a reputation for extra millions."

McIlroy's story changed Wednesday, but he didn't look comfortable changing it. Watch any segment of the 22 minutes here, and you'll notice a defeated-looking Rory, head resting on his closed fist, sighing, and saying things like, "I’ve come to terms with it. I’ve seen what’s happened in other sports and other businesses. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that this is what’s gonna happen." And: "They want to spend money on the game of golf, and they weren’t going to stop. How can we get that money into the game and use it the right way? And I think that’s ultimately what this will do."

He added that he thinks the merger will be "good" for "the game of professional golf."

Having an infinite budget to invest is objectively good for professional golf. Rory knows this. Jay Monahan knows this. And they always have. The money was never not on the table—where the money was coming from was, among a few other nuanced golf talking points, the preferred fuel of the resistance to LIV.

What McIlroy showed in his presser today was that he was going to fall in line whether he was happy about it or not. He may no longer feel empowered to explain the morality behind his reservations, but his body language did most of the talking today. The one glimpse into his soul we did get? "I wasn't looking forward to this, to be honest with you."

As this story evolves, the discussion is going to be dominated by objective truths. The PIF injection will make golf bigger than it's ever been. The PIF's arms are stretched far beyond the likes of professional golf, and professional sports altogether. All of the world's best professionals competing against each other makes the TV product significantly better. Money talks. Nice guys finish last.

During Wednesday's presser, McIlroy began a few of his more positive statements about the matter with, "Removing myself from the situation..." Monahan and the small circle of people involved in the decision-making didn't already do that for McIlroy yesterday. Rather, they relegated him from Leading Voice to merely Excellent Golfer.

However, I don't think Rory sees that as relegation—he is genuinely tired of all of this. He's still got a platform, but he's got a new boss, too. Critics of LIV and the PIF's presence in professional golf, myself included, will have to take a cue from McIlroy, if we're all going to be honest with ourselves. The only game in town is now bankrolled by a group of people Phil Mickelson called "scary motherfuckers" who are looking to cleanse their reputations tied to human rights, and worse. That is the only option on the table now.

But then again—it's only day two.

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