Rory McIlroy admits to Saudi double standard, yet ‘LIV Golf threat’ needs to be neutralized

Rory McIlroy is back home in his native Ireland. He will compete at the Horizon Irish Open this week at The K Club, the site of the 2006 Ryder Cup.

Before the tournament kicked off, however, McIlroy sat down with Nathan Murphy and Joe Molloy of the Golf Weekly podcast to discuss numerous topics, including the Saudi Public Investment Fund’s (PIF) financial commitment to partnering with the PGA and DP World Tours.

“There are so many different ways you can think about it and frame it,” McIlroy said Wednesday.

“At the end of the day, the way I have sort of looked at it is, if the PIF is really interested in golf, and they want to get into the system, we can at least provide them a pathway to play within the system.”

“It neutralizes any threat of LIV becoming something it hopefully should not become, and if they play within the boundaries set within our sport, we go from there.”

McIlroy has long criticized LIV Golf, saying on Jun. 7 that he hates the Saudi-backed circuit. The Northern Irishman is not a fan of the league’s format, nor is he fond of Greg Norman, the CEO of LIV Golf.

One month later, on Jul. 13, McIlroy said he would retire if LIV was the only professional tour remaining.

His disdain for LIV has been a recurring theme since its inception in the spring of 2022.

Yet, McIlroy provided a somewhat empathetic reasoning for the PIF’s investment into the PGA and DP World Tours, which was announced on Jun. 6.

“I have met the guys that are involved with PIF, I have sat with [Governor] Yasir [al-Rumayyan], I have talked to him,” McIlroy explained.

Rory McIlroy, DP World Tour, Horizon Irish Open
Rory McIlroy at the Pro-Am at The K Club before the 2023 Horizon Irish Open.
Photo by Oisin Keniry/Getty Images

“I don’t know what his beliefs are or whatever, but at the same time, I lived in Dubai for four years. The people there are some of my closest friends and have the same beliefs as some of these people we are criticizing. So, I would be a hypocrite if I am not criticizing my friends in Dubai when am I criticizing the Saudis [for the same reasons].”

Of course, the Saudi Arabian kingdom has an atrocious human rights record, ordered the dismemberment of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi, and likely played a role in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. At the very least, 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens.

Two other hijackers hailed from the United Arab Emirates, where Dubai is located. So it’s interesting McIlroy would draw a parallel between beliefs shared by those from Saudi Arabia and those from the U.A.E.

Plenty of countries from the Middle East have shared a disdain towards the United States over the past half-century because of American imperialism, economics related to oil, and differences in religious beliefs.

Saudi Arabia
Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
Photo by SAMEER AL-DOUMY/AFP via Getty Images

But over the past decade, oil has become a depreciating asset as the world looks to turn away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy. The Saudis likely realize this, hence why they have invested heavily into not just sports, but into plenty of businesses such as Uber and Twitter.

“There has to be a point where you see everything else happening in the world,” McIlroy admitted Wednesday. “Big private equity companies in America are taking their money. Some of the biggest companies in the world. And there is a lot of whataboutism and all of that, but at the same time, if this is what’s happening, the way I have framed it is, the world has decided for me in a way.”

Alas, at the Jul. 11 Senate hearing for the PGA-LIV Golf deal, it was revealed that McIlroy met with al-Rumayyan at the end of 2022.

“In our meeting, [McIlroy] and [Al-Rumayyan] talked of the need for compromise to benefit the game’s stakeholders, be it players, fans, broadcasters, sponsors, and charities,” a document from the hearing reads. “There was an agreement made by [McIlroy] and [Al-Rumayyan] that the leading players are unwilling to compete in more than 26 tournaments [in a year].”

McIlroy “was seeking no personal financial gain; he was simply trying to unify the game,” the document notes.

As his comments Wednesday indicated, the four-time major winner continues to work to unify the game, but he still hopes LIV Golf has no place in the future.

Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko for more golf coverage. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough too.