By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) -The new partnership between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf will ultimately be good for professional golf, Rory McIlroy said on Wednesday, but players who jumped to the Saudi-backed venture will not be welcomed back with open arms.
McIlroy, speaking ahead of this week’s Canadian Open, said he was stunned by Tuesday’s announcement of a merger of the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV into one unified commercial entity which ended a bitter year-long feud that split the sport.
One of the PGA Tour’s most vocal backers, McIlroy had been critical of golfers like Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson, former world number one Dustin Johnson and reigning PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka, who took massive signing bonuses to jump to the breakaway circuit.
Those decisions come with consequences, said the Northern Irishman who is a four-times major champion.
“The people that left the PGA Tour irreparably harmed this Tour, started litigation against it,” said McIlroy the defending Canadian Open champion. “We can’t just welcome them back in.
“That’s not going to happen.”
McIlroy was not tempted by the Saudi money and believes those players who stood with the PGA Tour should be compensated for their loyalty.
“The simple answer is yes,” said McIlroy. “The complex answer is how does that happen.
“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.”
McIlroy acknowledged that the deal does not actually include LIV Golf but is a partnership between the PGA and DP Tours and the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund (PIF), which bankrolls the rebel circuit.
“I still hate LIV,” said McIlroy. “I hope it goes away and I would fully expect that it does.
“I think that’s where the distinction here is. This is the PGA TOUR, the DP World Tour and the PIF. Very different from LIV.
“LIV’s got nothing to do with this.
“It’s the PGA TOUR, DP World Tour and the Public Investment Fund are basically partnering to create a new company.”
That new company, McIlroy said, will be run by the PGA Tour with commissioner Jay Monahan acting CEO.
With the PIF prepared to pour massive amounts of cash into golf, however, McIlroy conceded that it only made sense to get into business together.
The deal is a binding framework agreement but the financial terms have not been sorted out, a source familiar with the matter said.
“So the PGA Tour have control of everything,” said McIlroy. “Whether you like it or not, the PIF were going to keep spending the money in golf.
“If you’re thinking about one of the biggest sovereign wealth funds in the world, would you rather have them as a partner or an enemy?
“At the end of the day, money talks and you would rather have them as a partner.
“I look at the bigger picture and I look at 10 years down the line. I think ultimately this is going to be good for the game of professional golf.”
(Reporting by Frank Pingue and Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Ed Osmond)
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