PONTE VEDRA BEACH—Even if Rory McIlroy has been the most vocal critic of LIV Golf since its emergence last year, he is giving the rival league credit where it’s due.
The radical changes made to the PGA Tour in the past 12 months—spearheaded by creating a series of “designated” events that next year will have reduced fields and no cut—have been strongly influenced by the Saudi Arabia-funded LIV circuit.
“A lot of it,” McIlroy said of the changes, speaking to reporters Tuesday at this week’s Players Championship, the PGA Tour’s flagship tournament. “I’m not going to sit here and lie; I think the emergence of LIV, or the emergence of a competitor to the PGA Tour, has benefited everyone that plays elite professional golf. LIV coming along, it’s definitely had a massive impact on the game, but I think everyone who’s a professional golfer is going to benefit from it going forward.”
LIV Golf, which has a 48-player roster and is led by Greg Norman, kicked off its rival circuit last summer with 54-hole events featuring no cuts and $25 million purses—$5 million of it for a team component. With large, guaranteed-money contracts, a lighter schedule than the PGA Tour, and those increase purses, LIV poached a host of PGA and DP World tour stars including the reigning Players Championship and Open Championship winner, Cam Smith, as well as fellow major winners Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson and others.
The PGA Tour reacted by unveiling a series of 12 events outside the four majors and the Players which had their prize purses boosted to $20 million. That matches the individual component of LIV’s tournaments, of which there were eight in its inaugural season and 14 this year. Next year, on the PGA Tour, there will be eight $20 million tournaments with reduced fields of between 70 and 80 players and no 36-hole cut.
The changes were revealed last Wednesday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. Many, including LIV itself, thought the changes had a strong resemblance to LIV’s format. LIV Golf was quick to rib the tour on social media.
“Imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Congratulations PGA Tour. Welcome to the future,” LIV tweeted from its official Twitter account.
McIlroy has previously said he “hates what [LIV] is doing to the game” in causing a divide, which has been felt strongly among the European contingent who traverse the PGA and DP World Tours. That’s because several Ryder Cup stalwarts such as Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter have defected to LIV. He has also had a running public feud with LIV chief executive Norman. But four-time major winner McIlroy said there was perhaps a degree of complacency on the PGA Tour before LIV emerged.
“I think when you’ve been the biggest golf league in the biggest market in the world for the last 60 years, there’s not a lot of incentive to innovate,” McIlroy, the 2019 Players champion, said. “This [LIV] has caused a ton of innovation at the PGA Tour, and what was quite, I would say, an antiquated system is being revamped to try to mirror where we’re at in the world in the 21st century with the media landscape. The PGA Tour isn’t just competing with LIV Golf or other sports, it’s competing with Instagram and TikTok and everything else that’s trying to take eyeballs away from the PGA Tour as a product. “
McIlroy isn’t the first to say it. World No. 1 Jon Rahm said in November that “we [PGA Tour pros] should be thankful LIV Golf happened.” Reiterating those comments Tuesday at TPC Sawgrass, Rahm was even more direct.
“Oh, it’s LIV Golf,” Rahm said when asked what had caused the PGA Tour officials to reassess its product. “I mean, without a doubt. Without LIV Golf, this wouldn’t have happened. So to an extent, like I’ve said before, we should be thankful this threat has made the PGA Tour want to change things.
“I think I said it last week [at Bay Hill], as well; I wish it didn’t come to the PGA Tour being under fire from somebody else to make those changes and make things better for the players, but I guess it is what we needed,” he said. “So, yeah, it is because of LIV Golf, otherwise we wouldn’t have seen any of this.”