Rory McIlroy has never been shy about expressing his disdain for Saudi-backed LIV Golf’s attempts to quickly gain traction by stealing some of the PGA Tour’s biggest names. On Wednesday, one day after the PGA Tour won a legal victory over its upstart rival, the Northern Irish golfer delivered sharp criticism of the players who accepted the money and then went to court.
“I don’t blame anyone for playing LIV or taking guaranteed money,” McIlroy told reporters Wednesday in Memphis, where the PGA Tour’s season-ending FedEx Cup playoffs begin Thursday with the St. Jude Championship. “That’s completely fine if that’s your prerogative and what you want to do. I think where the resentment comes from, from the membership of this tour, is the fact that they want to try to get their way back in here with no consequences, and anyone that’s read the PGA Tour handbook or abided by the rules and regulations, that would feel very unfair to them.”
McIlroy was referring to a federal antitrust lawsuit filed last week against the PGA Tour by 11 golfers who defected to the Saudi-funded LIV Golf circuit this year, including Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, and Ian Poulter. The plaintiffs claim that the PGA Tour harmed their careers and engaged in anti-competitive behavior by acting on threats to ban members who signed with LIV.
McIlroy stated on Wednesday that, while he has spoken out against LIV Golf, the conflict between the two organizations did not feel “personal” until the lawsuit was filed. He added that he now has “a little more respect” for the former PGA Tour players whose names did not appear on the suit.
The legal process is still ongoing, but the PGA Tour scored a victory on Tuesday when a federal judge denied a temporary restraining order sought by three of the 11 players who had qualified for the FedEx Cup playoffs and wanted to participate. The $75 million bonus pool for the three-tournament postseason stretch will pay $18 million to the winner.
Talor Gooch, Matt Jones, and Hudson Swafford were set to earn more on the lucrative LIV Golf circuit than they “could have reasonably been expected to make” in the PGA Tour’s three postseason events, according to U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman on Tuesday.
In court filings related to the temporary restraining order bid, PGA Tour lawyers stated that the LIV players were attempting to “have their cake and eat it too,” and that language was echoed Wednesday by another standout player who has remained loyal to the established circuit.
“It was personal to me from the beginning,” Justin Thomas said from the St. Jude Championship site. “It’s kind of like I said at the start: Those [LIV] guys were given an opportunity to just go play. You can have your cake, but you don’t need to eat it, too. And they got their fair share of a large, large amount of cake, and you know, go eat it on your own means. You don’t need to bring it onto our tour.”
Thomas, who won his second major title at the PGA Championship in May, added that all the talk about LIV has been a distraction and has overshadowed “great storylines” in his sport.
In a pre-tournament media appearance Tuesday in Memphis, Scheffler expressed surprise and frustration that the 11 LIV golfers had filed a lawsuit.
Scheffler stated that his “dream was to play on the PGA Tour” and that he would “never maximize my financial benefits.”
Cameron Smith, a 28-year-old Australian who won his first major at the British Open last month, may not be in the same boat. The Telegraph recently reported that Smith had agreed to a $100 million payment to join LIV Golf — but only after competing in the FedEx Cup playoffs. Not by chance, the next LIV event is set to take place in Boston a week after the Tour Championship concludes later this month in Atlanta.