Backing Saudi deal, McIlroy rethinks role as PGA Tour backstop

Rory McIlroy is still buzzing, still serious, still eager to play the Saudi-backed League LIV golf he spent much of the last year reviling as a compromised interloper.

“I hate LIV,” McIlroy, one of the new circuit’s most scathing critics, said Wednesday. “I hope it goes away, I fully expect it to.”

He appears to grudgingly accept what PGA Tour executives believe is realism, abrasiveness and condescension: the surest way to cheat LIV is to position the tour to collect the Saudi money it has denounced.

McIlroy’s reckoning, which he described a day after the tour and a deal that Saudi executives blindsided the golf world, was done in secret, is not the final word on a deal that is still formally tentative. But his endorsement immediately bolstered the deal’s prospects, as McIlroy, one of the world’s most prominent players, is one of the few to sit on a PGA Tour board.

Despite McIlroy’s quest to shed the burden of being one of the tour’s top spokesmen, he’s still one of its most reliable backstops.

He said it distracted him from his game. Given the chaos this week on the PGA Tour, he may be on a kick for a while.

Beyond clearing a prospective boardroom ban, McIlroy’s approval of the deal — which would see a PGA Tour-controlled, Saudi-funded entity handle the business dealings of competitive circuits — meant he had effectively signed off. The public that the PGA Tour is a worthy, defensive venture.

He admitted Wednesday that the tour’s lucrative shift was “hypocritical.” He admits to feeling betrayed, saying, “It’s hard for me to sit here and feel like a sacrificial lamb. I put myself out there and this is what’s happening.” He acknowledged the “ambiguity” in the deal and said he “didn’t understand all the nuances of what was going on.”

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But his sales pitch for the deal, qualified as it is, was perhaps the most confusing look at the tour’s playbook in weeks and months. That won’t quell the storm within the circle where he’s staked his reputation. After all, few people are happy to be outside the tour, and no one knows about the private activities of its leadership, with Yasir Al-Rumayan, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.

While McIlroy’s protected backing doesn’t guarantee a path to a deal, as the world’s third-ranked player, he’s already trying to explain the ins and outs of corporate structures.

Looking a decade into the future, McIlroy predicted the deal would be “good for the game of professional golf.”

“There’s still a lot of things to clear,” McIlroy said Wednesday in Toronto, where a tour event is set to begin Thursday. “But at least it means the lawsuits will go away, which has been a huge burden on everyone involved in the tour and playing on the tour, and we can start working towards some sort of way of unifying the game at the elite level.”

The finer points of the new partnership between the PGA Tour and the Saudis are still unclear. But once the new company is built, the tour is expected to keep the majority of the group’s seats. Apart from the promise of exclusive rights to invest in the company, the Saudi outcome was that Al-Rumaian was to be the company’s chairman.

Saudi Arabia’s wealth fund has been splashing cash across global sports. By Wednesday morning, less than a day after McIlroy received his initial briefing on the arrangement, he said he had “come to terms” with the expectation that Saudi money would write golf well in the future.

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“I look at what’s happened in other sports, I look at what’s happened in other businesses, and honestly, I’m resigned to the fact that this is what’s going to happen,” McIlroy said. “It’s more difficult to relate to people who have more money than others.”

The control over how Saudi money can flow through golf, McIlroy and others is worth it. something- McIlroy in particular, as he said Wednesday, is desperate to “protect the future of the PGA Tour and protect the aspirational nature of what the PGA Tour stands for.”

“If you think about one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds, would you consider them a partner or an adversary?” McIlroy asked. “At the end of the day, money talks, and you want to have them as a partner.”

Not particularly fazed when he met a group of reporters the day after the tour’s public good punch, McIlroy said he would turn his attention to golf ahead of next week’s US Open in Los Angeles, hitting balls on the driving range and looking for success. Angels.

A win could come either there or in Toronto this weekend.

But the confusion isn’t over, not by a long shot, but McIlroy’s prized tour is trying to figure out what to do with the circuit he hates. Until then, McIlroy may be stuck with two temptations: winning golf tournaments — and somehow securing a tour that suddenly looks like he’s hitting so often.

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