BROOKLINE, Mass. — Rory McIlroy will face questions about history. About being a leader. About friendships. 9/11 and sports wash. These are all serious topics, and with good reason, and he certainly knew what was coming during his press conference prior to the US Open tournament.
So when he saw the opportunity for levity on Tuesday, to exhale, he jumped on it.
“I don’t want to rub your nose in a bad prediction, but back in February you said this was dead in the water, and obviously now…” the reporter began.
“The US Open?” McIlroy said, laughing.
“No, no, no…”, the reporter tried to continue, without success.
“I thought we were at the US Open,” McIlroy said.
And it certainly was. But no matter how hard you try, you’ll have to steer the conversation to the 72 holes that lie ahead at the Country Club of Brookline. Was any of that the fault of the assembled reporters? No doubt. But even a question from Sports Illustrated for Kids, about Francis Ouimet, the 1913 winner here, and the 10-year-old caddy he used, saw McIlroy take the podium and talk about the importance of golf history.
If you need a quick review of the paragraph before you continue, it would read like this: An upstart league called the LIV Golf Invitational Series, after months (years?) of rumors, played its first tournament last weekend, its course cashed backed by Saudi Arabia’s paychecks, its star, Phil Mickelson, once described those sponsors as “Scary MFers,” and the home of some of those players involved, the PGA Tour, has told them they are now no longer welcome. Many things are happening. For the fan, understandably, it creates a conflict: Do I see Dustin Johnson, Ian Poulter and many others I know well? Or do I consider sourcing and look the other way?
In particular, this is a similar thought for McIlroy, but goes further. He is not just looking at the players. Many are friends. And perhaps unknowingly, he summed it up well when the reporter upstairs finally finished his question. In late February, after the players had pledged their Tour commitments over LIV, McIlroy declared the upstart “dead in the water,” only for two of those golfers, Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, to renege on that commitment, and the writer asked, “I wonder what you feel you messed up, is it the state of the game or your teammates where this thing has more life than you initially thought.
“I guess I took a lot of player statements at face value,” McIlroy said. “I guess that’s where I went wrong. You had people committed to the PGA Tour, and that’s what was issued. People retracted that, so I guess I took them at face value.
“I took them at their word and I was wrong.”
Strong words there. No, it seems that he is not afraid to speak detrimentally to people he knows well. Here’s McIlroy, for example, on the idea of players his age, like DeChambeau and Talor Gooch, playing the LIV series.
“A lot of these guys are over 40 years old. In Phil’s case, early ’50s,” she said. “Yes, I think everyone in this room and themselves would tell you that their best days are behind them. That’s why I don’t understand guys who are similar in age to me leaving because I’d like to believe that my best days are yet to come, and I think theirs too. So that’s where it feels like you’re taking the easy way out.”
And here’s McIlroy on whether LIV players are involved in “sports washing,” the concept where they’re playing golf to help you get past the actions of those aforementioned “fear MFers.”
“I’m not sure if they’re totally, I don’t think they’re complicit,” he said. “In a way, I think, look, everyone has a choice to play where they want to play, and they’ve made their choice. My dad told me a long time ago, once you make your bed, you lie in it and they’ve made their bed. That’s their decision, and they have to live with it.”
Still, he said, as difficult as it sounds, no, McIlroy doesn’t think his previous relationships are strained.
“I will continue to be close to the guys who have made the decision to play those events,” he said. “It’s not like you agree on absolutely everything that all of your friends do. You’re going to have a difference of opinion about a lot of things. It’s okay. That’s what makes this a great world. We can’t all agree on everything.
“I don’t know. I don’t think anyone can see where this is going to be in five or 10 years. If I had a crystal ball, I could obviously give you a better answer. I honestly don’t know.”
This is where you are possibly wondering if you can have it. both ways: talk tough and still play 18 with those you talk tough about. It’s not like I’m disagreeing with anyone over a favorite team or music choice here. And McIlroy’s answer above tells you that he is conflicted.
But maybe your answer between its answer to why he has assumed a fairly recent mantle of “leader of the PGA Tour” in all of this.
Sometimes you have to make a choice.
“Because, in my opinion, it’s the right thing to do,” McIlroy said. “The PGA Tour was created by people and Tour players who came before us, like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer. They created something and worked hard for something, and I hate to see all the players that came before us and all the hard work they’ve put in has come to nothing.
“I think one of the other things as well is that the PGA Tour has certainly given me a lot of opportunities and I’ve benefited a lot from that, but I think what they’ve done is for charity. They’ve raised, if you put in every other major sports organization in this country, so NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, if you put in all of their charity dollars combined, the PGA Tour has raised twice as much in its history.
“That’s a huge legacy and something I don’t think people talk about enough, so when you talk about the Tour and everything that’s going on right now, you have to look at the bigger picture than just golf, and I think I’ve tried to take a broader view of everything, and I think that’s the right thing to do.”