As McIlroy's response suggests, golf may remain in period of flux before true unification

A lot of questions need to be answered and relations salvaged before the sport can move forward

Rory McIlroy during the Canadian Open Pro-Am in Toronto on Wednesday, June 7, 2023. AP
Powered by automated translation

Rory McIlroy's reaction was for the most part measured, but it did not take long for the frustration to surface.

As well it might. The four-time major champion may have not, he said on Wednesday, had to turn down a king's ransom to join LIV Golf back when it began to really take root, yet he nevertheless became a foremost face of golf's major split.

McIlroy, at various points from the loftiest position of world No 1, settled in as the de facto spokesman for LIV Golf's rivals, for golf’s establishment.

McIlroy, and it is worth highlighting that he did so willingly, was quickly instated as the lead light for the PGA Tour in particular amid golf’s bleakest period, where rumour and rancour, claims and counterclaims, lawsuits and tested loyalties became the running themes of the best part of two years. Relationships, too, were soured; some, you would imagine, irrevocably broken.

Upon Tuesday night’s shock announcement that the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf had agreed to a landmark partnership to form a commercial entity to unify golf, one of the principal figures involved had labelled the merger as “marking the end of the division in our game”.

Whether McIlroy agrees with Keith Pelley, chief executive of the DP World Tour, remains to be seen. He has been outspoken and forthright in his opinion towards those who had traded the traditional tours for LIV; the sense following his Wednesday press conference at the RBC Canadian Open was that McIlroy will not be waiting at the PGA Tour gates to welcome back former friends.

Patently, there would have been little division, or certainly not as seismic a fracture, in the game without the whole LIV furore.

That McIlroy, or any other PGA Tour player, was apparently not consulted regarding the new agreement will surely have only deepened his displeasure. He not only championed golf’s preeminent circuit, he campaigned for change. Alongside Tiger Woods, he drove the tour’s revamp that, admittedly, had not proved wholeheartedly popular with all its members.

But McIlroy gave a significant amount of commitment to the cause. He conceded recently that it had taken a mental and emotional toll that required a longer-than-intended few weeks away from the spotlight this season (even if McIlroy has continued to rack up victories - five in the past 18 months, 2022 FedEx Cup champion - and the subsequent riches those provide).

Arguably, there has been no figure as central publicly to Golf’s Great Divide than McIlroy, other than perhaps Greg Norman, LIV Golf’s CEO. Tellingly, Norman’s input was conspicuous by its absence on Tuesday.

That the bombshell came with barely any detail surely adds to the frustration. How will this new world be structured? What will the revised calendar look like? Will team events, one of the main selling points of LIV Golf, continue in some form? Can LIV’s members find their way back onto the PGA Tour, and what will be the knock-on effect, if any, for this year’s Ryder Cup?

It is all subject to conjecture, at present, because PGA Tour commissioner and now CEO of the new entity, Jay Monahan, admitted none of this has been thrashed out. The announcement appeared hurried, and maybe even forced, leading to accusations the news was going to break before all parties wished.

Yet the greatest issue some of McIlroy's like-minded peers would no doubt have will be that they gave up exorbitant amounts of money – granted, the modern, elite-level professional golfer does not want for much – to defend a clear and obvious threat to the PGA Tour only for the PGA Tour to eventually take that cash anyway.

And how about Monahan’s absolute about-face when talking about dealing with the Saudi-backed tour? “I recognise that people are going to call me a hypocrite,” he said following an understandably tense meeting with the players in Toronto on Tuesday.

Still, when all is said and done – and we feel still a long way from the end point – the players will unquestionably play for more money, and golf fans will get what they always wanted: the best competing against the best.

McIlroy, together with his fellow PGA Tour loyalists, could conceivably get some sort of financial compensation given what they have missed out on. Do they need it? For most, no. But it would sweeten a pretty unsavoury taste in their mouths.

Golf, it seems, looks to be moving, finally, towards unification. However, given the manner of Tuesday’s message, how it was delivered and the lingering uncertainty of its implementation, the sense is the sport remains very much in flux.

Updated: June 07, 2023, 6:10 PM