Pound for pound, he is the most powerful golfer in the world. Riveting to watch. I admire the flawless simplicity of his swing, the hip speed, mobility, and coordination on display. His drives travel obscene distances. Towering iron shots laser in on distant pins.
Now an immediately recognizable figure on the global sporting stage, since turning professional in 2007 he wins countless Invitational titles and multiple Fed Ex Cups. Becomes a Ryder Cup star, reaches #1 in the world rankings. A prodigy in every way, he further captures a US Open, a British Open and two PGAs by the age of 24. Only a victory at The Masters remains, the final major required to complete a coveted “Grand Slam.”
He is Rory McIlroy.
Yet, frustration and disappointment gnaw away at him. Now in his mid-30s, he continues a quest to end a major championship drought that, inconceivably, stretches almost nine years. Seven runner-up or third place finishes in this time frame, a remarkable nineteen top tens overall. Always knocking at the door, only to be undone at key junctures, perhaps by lack of real belief, more likely by a missed fairway, the occasional loose wedge shot, or a balky putter.
This past weekend’s loss at the US Open might sting the most. McIlroy will ruminate upon a missed opportunity. Never able to gain momentum. A final round even par 70, one measly shot to many. His putter colder than a winter morning in Siberia.
Recently, and much more significantly, he also figures prominently for other reasons.
Certainly, the world of golf fractures in the summer of 2022, with a controversial breakaway tour, named LIV, opening for business. Backed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, his henchmen, and billions of Saudi dollars, the fledgling operation looks to lure PGA stars by offering huge, up front money contracts. Big names in the sport, such as Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Ian Poulter, Cam Smith, in addition to a number of others, jump ship. Quit the PGA tour. This despite damning accusations of Saudi Arabian “sportswashing,” namely buying high-profile athletic competitions and athletes in order to cleanse and launder negative reputations about human rights abuses, modern slavery, racism, authoritarian rule, even murder.
Along with a handful of other top players, McIlroy adamantly refuses the initial Saudi advances. Becomes the de facto spokesperson for those staying loyal to the PGA tour.
2023 arrives. Tensions between the rival factions increase. Tempers fray, vitriol flies back and forth on various social media platforms. Legal battles ensue, the PGA and its European cousin DP World Tour at serious odds with LIV. Players take sides, long time friendships strain, uncertainty over the sport’s future looms.
Then, suddenly, shockingly, and without warning, comes an announcement of a merger between the rival factions. And that the mega-wealthy, Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) agrees or is considering, as part of the controversial partnership, to handsomely compensate the key players who originally turned down the overtures of LIV Golf.
Of course, this directly involves McIlroy.
While, initially at least, he and others loyal to the PGA slam their own management for betrayal, it appears that many of them now believe they should be compensated. With the PIF happy to oblige, in order to calm down a tense situation and make any transition into a new world golf order as smooth as possible.
Cynics argue that the spat is nothing more than rich people fighting about how to become richer. That it has absolutely nothing to do with the soul of the game.
However, I am not so sure.
In this regard, as the recognized leader of the PGA players, McIlroy can take a strong moral stance on the whole issue. Can lead by example. Primarily, take a resolute stand against sportswashing.
As someone already not short of a bob, with career earnings somewhere north of $125 million US, and perhaps that much again in high end endorsements, he hardly needs PIF money. Even if, increasingly in the world of sport, finance is the prime mover.
Indeed, even if dirt poor, McIlroy should fight against the proposed compensation scheme. Refuse to accept any filthy lucre. Railing against the breakaway league when LIV first opens for business, he should remain vehemently opposed once again. Should see the merger for what it is, a blatant takeover. Should see that the Saudis, given a history of human rights violations, persecution, and the death penalty, are effectively buying absolution, never mind the sport of golf.
Resist them, Rory. While recent rumours suggest that you won't, please remember that once your playing days are over, people will not care a jot about the number of major championships won.
In contrast, what will be remembered forever is a special athlete who shows integrity, decency, and courage. Who sticks to his principles regardless of the inducements and the pressure. A person not tempted by dollars, sleaze, and corruption.
Do not accept a single sou. In your case at least, do not let the money talk.