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LIV Golf ‘exposed flaws’ within the PGA Tour, Rory McIlroy says

LIV Golf ‘exposed flaws’ within the PGA Tour, Rory McIlroy says

LIV Golf has “exposed flaws” in the PGA Tour, especially how it deals with corporate sponsorships and player commitments, Rory McIlroy told Sky Bet’s “Stick to Football” show. Several major corporations have backed away from the PGA Tour in the last year in the face of increased purses.

“What LIV and the Saudis have exposed is that you have a tour and you’re going and asking sponsors for millions of dollars to sponsor these events and you’re not able to guarantee those sponsors the players that are going to show up,” McIlroy said. “It’s very hard. I can’t believe they’ve done so well for so long.”

PGA Tour pros operate as independent contractors, free to show up when and where they want. Few players play three weeks in a row. Some like to play the week before a major championship, others do not. They may skip a stretch of the schedule because they feel like their game does not translate well to the grass found in California or Florida, for instance. And while the PGA Tour has minimum event rules for its members and incentives for playing more often with the FedEx Cup playoffs points system, the idea that you’re not guaranteed to see everybody at one place most weeks has been accepted in men’s professional golf for a long time.

LIV does not have that problem — short of injury, its 48-man roster shows up at every event. While that to date has not been enough to merit sponsor interest on any sort of scale, it has the financial backing of the PIF — the Saudi sovereign wealth fund — to make its large payouts to the players work.

So as the PGA Tour fought to keep its top players, it dramatically increased purses. But without the same largesse in its own coffers, it has pushed some of those costs onto the sponsors, increasing the bottom line to put a company’s name on a PGA Tour event but not necessarily its value. In some cases it’s gotten worse — if you’re not hosting one of the signature events, you’re less likely to get top-10 players to show up in 2024. Companies have noticed.

Wells Fargo is the latest event title sponsor to pull away from the PGA Tour, announcing late last year that 2024 will be the final time it attaches its name to the May event in Charlotte, N.C. Honda is no longer an event sponsor. AT&T kept the Pebble Beach Pro-Am but dropped the Byron Nelson Classic. RBC considered not renewing its sponsorship of the Canadian Open, The Athletic reported in July 2023.

“Asking (a company) to pay 20, 25 million an event to sponsor this thing — they’re not seeing the value in it,” McIlroy said. “If you can guarantee me that the top 50 guys are going to come and play in my event that week then fine, but if you can’t guarantee me that, then I’m not going to give you that money.”

McIlroy, who stepped down late last year from the PGA Tour player advisory board, told a roundtable of English soccer legends on the show that he remains hopeful that there’s a way to bring the tours together. “If you start dividing the eyeballs in professional golf, it’s no good for anyone. It cannibalizes itself,” McIlroy said.

The PGA Tour and PIF are continuing to negotiate towards an agreement, at the same time the PGA Tour is working with a consortium of U.S.-based sports team owners on investment into a new, profit-based enterprise. When that has all settled, the tour will have to look at fixing the problems LIV put a light on.

“It’s exposed some flaws in the system that hopefully golf will have a look at, and if we’re going to ask these people for so much money, we need to guarantee them what they’re getting,” McIlroy said. “That’s part of the stuff we’ve been doing for the last two years.”

McIlroy also said that he does not have any hard feelings for Jon Rahm, who left the PGA Tour for LIV last month.

“I thought it was a smart business move from Jon — it’s opportunistic,” McIlroy said. “I think he sees that things will come back together and he’s in a lucky position. He’s exempt from all the majors.

“There’s not one person that wouldn’t want him on our Ryder Cup team because of how good he is, so he was in a great position where there wasn’t a ton of risk involved for him to go. I’ve got no problem with him going if that’s what he wants to do and he thinks that’s the right decision for him and his family. Who am I to say any different at this point?” McIlroy said.

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(Photo: Andrew Redington / Getty Images)

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