Rory McIlroy has made an eye-opening concession about the positive effects LIV Golf has had on the PGA Tour, ahead of this week's lucrative Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. The World No.3 has been arguably the most vocal critic of the Saudi-backed rebel competition headed up by Aussie golf great Greg Norman, who was handed a reported $3 billion war chest to try and entice some of the sport's best players to join.
The PGA Tour has responded to the threat of LIV Golf by banning any defectors from playing in their events, however, they are allowed to compete in the four majors if relevant qualification criteria is met. LIV Golf's seemingly bottomless money pit has also forced the PGA Tour to adopt a number of changes to their schedule and the format of events, including bigger purses for many of the tournaments.
LIV Golf has long trumpeted its 'no cuts' format of golf as one that is fairer on all players, with the PGA responding by introducing its own money-spinning no-cut events starting in 2024. McIlroy said the launch of the upstart tour had forced the US-based circuit to innovate and admitted that without the threat posed by the Saudi-backed competition, many of the PGA Tour's changes probably wouldn't have happened.
"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," McIlroy told reporters at TPC Sawgrass. "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.
"This has caused a ton of innovation at the PGA Tour. 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.
"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."
Jon Rahm grateful for PGA Tour changes
World No.1 Jon Rahm mirrored McIlroy's stance when asked whether the changes to the PGA Tour would have happened if pressure hadn't been applied by LIV Golf. However, the Spaniard lamented the bitter divide that its emergence had caused in the sport.
"Without a doubt," Rahm said. "Without LIV Golf, this wouldn't have happened. So to an extent, we should be thankful this threat has made the PGA Tour want to change things.
"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. So, yeah, it is because of LIV Golf. Otherwise, we wouldn't have seen any of this."
One unfortunate by-product of the ban on LIV Golf stars competing in the PGA Tour events is the fact Aussie star Cam Smith won't be able to try and defend his Players Championship title this year. Smith lives only minutes away from the TPC Sawgrass course and along with his win at The Open in 2022, counts his victory there as the biggest of his career.
Cam Smith said he might show up to The Players Championship as a fan due to his ban on competing there. "I am a little it unsure. That is where I live now. I don't know, I will definitely be watching it on TV. I think it is a great event," he said.
"I grew up my whole childhood watching the event. I would love to get out there. I don't know how it would be received, me getting out there and watching, walking around in the crowd. Might be pretty funny, I would love to do that."
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