In a surprising reversal, PGA Tour stalwart Rory McIlroy now says he doesn’t believe players who defected to the LIV Golf circuit should face punishment if they seek to return to the PGA Tour.
The Northern Irish star, who was previously among LIV Golf’s harshest critics, told reporters this week, “I don’t think there should be a punishment. I’ve changed my tune on that.”
- McIlroy says he has “changed his tune” on LIV Golf and doesn’t think LIV players should be punished if they return to the PGA Tour
- He says “life is about choices” and players should be allowed to come back and play on the PGA Tour if they want
- Rahm and Hatton agree with McIlroy’s comments, seeing it as an evolution in his thinking and an “important statement”
- Hatton says McIlroy expressed similar thoughts when they spoke recently
- The potential merger between LIV and the PGA Tour seems to be factoring into McIlroy’s change of heart
It’s a dramatic pivot for the four-time major winner. Back in 2022 when news of LIV Golf’s emergence first broke, McIlroy argued that defectors like Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Sergio Garcia should not be welcome back due to their disloyalty.
“I think at this stage, if you’ve gone over to play on another tour then go and play on that tour,” he asserted last February.
But this week, McIlroy struck a conciliatory tone: “It’s hard to punish people…Having a diminished PGA Tour and a diminished LIV tour is bad for both parties. The faster we can get back together and have the strongest fields, the better.”
McIlroy’s comments came shortly after English Ryder Cup teammate Tyrrell Hatton signed a deal reportedly worth around $60 million to become LIV Golf’s latest high-profile recruit.
Upon hearing about McIlroy’s remarks on potential LIV returnees, Hatton told reporters, “That’s kind of along the lines of what [Rory] said to me” during recent conversations between the two golfers.
The surprise olive branch similarly caught the attention of LIV sensation Jon Rahm. “He might be seeing that the landscape of golf is changing and at some point you need to evolve,” theorized the Spaniard.
Rahm believes McIlroy has recognized the shifting dynamics in the sport, evidenced by rumored negotiations around a partnership between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
“It’s nice to have the support from a player the caliber of Rory,” said Rahm, alluding to McIlroy’s past criticism of LIV players’ chances to participate in future Ryder Cups.
Rory McIlroy admits he's 'changed my tune' on LIV players returning to PGA Tour https://t.co/dfvlJKQb2R
— Fox News Sports (@FoxNewsSports_) January 31, 2024
Indeed, McIlroy’s reversal seems tied to gradual acceptance that LIV Golf isn’t going away anytime soon, especially given the upstart circuit’s nearly unlimited financial backing.
With swelling prize purses and eight-figure paydays, LIV has already lured away major champions like Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau, and now Hatton. More big names could follow if LIV seals a broadcast deal in 2024 and finds a path into the world rankings.
McIlroy likely realizes that a fractured golf ecosystem serves no one’s benefit in the long run. While the PGA Tour remains golf’s most prestigious circuit, LIV provides an appealing alternative model that fans and players are responding to.
Allowing players to move freely between the tours — rather than imposing bans and restrictions — can help mend rifts and maximize talent across events. It may represent golf’s best compromise, even if it means swallowing some pride.
McIlroy seems to have reached that very conclusion himself. And based on the reactions from Rahm, Hatton and others, LIV golfers appreciate the four-time major winner’s “change of tune” as an important milestone toward the game’s eventual reconciliation.