Rory McIlroy has raised the tensions in golf’s civil war to new heights by telling Greg Norman he should leave his post as LIV chief executive and allow “the adults” to take over and negotiate peace in the professional game.
McIlroy has been the most vocal big-name opponent of the Saudi-funded circuit since it was formed earlier this year and has made no secret of his enmity towards Norman. And with remarks sure to fuel the personal feud, the world No 1 declared on Tuesday that as long as the Australian stays at the helm then any LIV compromise with the traditional tours will be impossible.
“There’s a few things that I would like to see on the LIV side that needs to happen [before talks can begin],” he said. “I think Greg needs to go. I think he just needs to exit stage left. He’s made his mark but I think now is the right time to sort of say, look, you’ve got this thing off the ground but no one is going to talk unless there’s an adult in the room that can actually try to mend fences.”
Telegraph Sport exclusively revealed last week that Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the Newcastle United chairman and governor of the Saudi sovereign wealth fund that has already pumped more than £2 billion into the breakaway league, has met with Mark King, the former TaylorMade chief executive who now runs American fast-food giant Taco Bell, in an attempt to bring the respected figure on board and shift Norman upstairs.
There is no doubt that Norman has made mistakes in his tenure – most notably by brushing off accusations of Saudi human-rights atrocities by saying “we all make mistakes” at the LIV launch – but his leadership has served a purpose.
Regardless of nine-figure sign-on fees, the Australian’s close relationship with golfers such as Cam Smith, Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia has helped LIV entice so many top performers and, whatever his detractors claim, it was one of LIV’s primary aims in its first year to disrupt and thrust itself into the centre of the narrative. Under Norman’s uncompromising stewardship this has emphatically been achieved.
However, the forthcoming second season is viewed as critical for LIV in the long-term as it expands to a 14-event, $405m series and relaunches as a bona fide “league”.
Norman is viewed in many areas as divisive and even toxic and after all that has been said between the two warring factions it is hard to envisage Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, entering into discussions with the two-time major winner.
If Norman does not resign or is not dismissed or sidelined, McIlroy struggles to see a path through the anger and recrimination. He cited LIV’s ongoing legal battles with both the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour – formerly the European Tour – and believes these need to run their course and for Norman to depart the scene before the hostilities can end.
“It’s obviously been a very contentious year in golf,” he said. “The best thing in golf is to have all the best players playing together, and that’s not happening.
“I fear for the game when that’s going on. It’s contentious because there’s lawsuits going on and people suing people; it’s very, very messy.
“If all that stuff can be sorted out one way or the other, then you can get to the stage where there’s forgiveness and people can have dialogue and come to some sort of common ground. But while all this is happening, it’s very hard to do that.”
On Monday, Norman announced that Adelaide would host the first LIV event in Australia with the full schedule expected soon, but although the LIV calendar is coming together there is still no TV deal, a fact Norman acknowledges is a priority. Yet despite his lengthy to-do list, he keeps on unfurling barbs, the latest being that “Rory and Tiger Woods should be thankful to LIV for getting them a better deal on the PGA Tour”.
McIlroy scoffed at this suggestion. “I don’t think Tiger should be thankful to anyone in golf for anything. I think everyone else in the game should be thankful to Tiger. He is the reason that we are playing for as much as we are playing for; he is the reason the stature of our game is where it is.”
‘It’s the sporting achievements that get me going’
However, there is no question that McIlroy will benefit from the LIV threat, with purses on the US circuit suddenly soaring as well as the advent of a $100m Player Impact Program from which the Northern Irishman will cash in. Then there is the stadium-based, high-tech golf league that Woods and McIlroy will launch in conjunction with the PGA Tour that will start in 2024.
The 33-year-old’s coffers are set to swell like never before, but McIlroy insists that is not his motivation. No doubt there is a school of thought that thinks it easy for a superstar who has earned more than $40m already in 2022 to dismiss the lure of big bucks and their eyeballs will be certain to roll at the following statement.
“In terms of I guess anything that Greg says, but that comment [from Norman], it depends what you’re looking for out of golf,” McIlroy said. “Am I thankful that it’s provided more opportunities for the top players to earn more? Yes. But ultimately will that make me happier at the end of my career? No.
“There’s a lot of things that people play golf for and do their jobs for, and it’s not just about money. It’s about other things. It’s about fulfillment…. sporting achievements are the things that get me going.”
McIlroy is in position here at the DP World Tour Championship to add the Race To Dubai crown to the FedEx Cup he won in Atlanta in August and so become just the second player in history – after current LIV golfer Henrik Stenson in 2013 – to win both order of merit titles in the US and Europe in the same year. He leads the standings going into this seasonal finale, with a first Harry Vardon Trophy in seven years in his sights.