Rory McIlroy said on Thursday that he would rather retire than compete on the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour even if it “was the last place on Earth to play golf.”
Four-time major winner McIlroy has been a vocal opponent of the breakaway golf tour ever since it came into existence a few years ago, threatening the very foundations of the sport.
June’s shocking announcement of the merger between LIV and the PGA Tour appeared to end hostilities between golf’s two factions, but McIlroy still isn’t afraid of hiding his feelings towards the new tour.
“If LIV Golf was the last place to play golf on Earth, I would retire. That’s how I feel about it,” said McIlroy, who was reportedly speaking to the written press after his first round at the Scottish Open on Thursday. “I’d play the majors, but I’d be pretty comfortable.”
CNN has reached out to LIV Golf to offer it the right of reply.
McIlroy’s comments come a few days after it was revealed that an adviser to the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) proposed that McIlroy and Tiger Woods could own LIV Golf teams and play in the Saudi-backed tour, but a PGA Tour representative told CNN Sport that the proposals were rejected by the PGA TOUR.
The revelation was made in a 276-page report released by the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on Tuesday. The subcommittee – part of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee – is looking into the deal, and the involvement of the Saudi government, between the two entities.
Earlier this week, witnesses – including PGA Tour Chief Operating Officer Ron Price and Jimmy Dunne, a company board member who helped broker the deal – faced scrutiny from committee members over the deal.
“Today’s hearing is about much more than the game of golf. It’s about how a brutal, repressive regime can buy influence, and indeed even take over a cherished American institution to cleanse its public image,” said Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Chairman Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat.
But both Price and Dunne said that the framework of the planned merger was the best chance to allow the PGA Tour to keep some measure of control over the sport.
“I really understand Sen. Blumenthal’s concern about having them take over,” Dunne said in comments before the committee.
“They have an unlimited horizon and an unlimited amount of money. It isn’t like the product is better. It’s just that there’s a lot more money that will make people [players] move [from the PGA to LIV]. I’m concerned with what the senator is worried about. But I’m concerned if we do nothing we’re going to end up there, they’re going to end up owning golf. They can do it.”
A day before, former AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson had resigned from his post on the policy board of the PGA Tour in protest to the proposed merger, saying that he had “serious concerns.”
Stephenson added that the deal is “not one that I can objectively evaluate or in good conscience support, particularly in light of the US intelligence report concerning Jamal Khashoggi in 2018,” a source familiar with the letter confirmed to CNN.
A US intelligence report named Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, as responsible for approving the operation that led to the 2018 murder of journalist Khashoggi – something bin Salman denies.
McIlroy said that he only caught glimpses of the Senate hearing. “As long as I get to play golf, I’m happy. Quite a bit of apathy towards everything at the minute,’’ McIlroy said.
“There wasn’t a lot of new information in there for me. There was going to be some new information for other people. As I said, I’ve almost been too close the last year and a bit. So nice to be able to try to distance myself a bit.’’
At the RBC Canadian Open last month and shortly after the news of the merger broke, McIlroy said it didn’t change his opinions of LIV.
“I still hate LIV. Like, I hate LIV. Like, I hope it goes away. And I would fully expect that it does. And I think that’s where the distinction here is.”
The 34-year-old added: “It’s hard for me to not sit up here and feel somewhat like a sacrificial lamb and feeling like I’ve put myself out there and this is what happens.
“Again, removing myself from the situation, I see how this is better for the game of golf. There’s no denying that. But for me as an individual, there’s just going to have to be conversations that are had.”