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Why Rory McIlroy is still the PGA Tour’s greatest asset

Rory McIlroy during the 2022 Players Championship.

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We, the professional golf-loving population, are missing a compelling press conference this week. Rest assured, what Collin, Xander, Jordan and Jon have to say on Tuesday will be interesting. But their words rarely hit as hard as those of Rory McIlroy, the PGA Tour’s top speaker. Or, those same words more appropriately ordered, the best speaker on the PGA Tour.

McIlroy is taking a break this week, skipping the WGC-Match Play for the first time in his career, during which he would almost certainly have sat in front of a microphone and a room full of reporters and been asked about Greg Norman’s announcement of eight, mega million golf events. Why? Because McIlroy has proven to have one of the strongest opinions against exactly that. He was also reportedly asked to discuss the week’s secondary news: how he recently presented a proposal for another one league made it to the PGA Tour Board of Directors.

In mid-February, according to various reports, McIlroy received a proposal from the Premier Golf League – a separate but equally interested entity – and in early March he was just doing his job presenting it to the board. It is also a radical proposal, as much as that of Greg Norman. You can read more about it all here, as first reported by the Fire Pit Collective, but stick to one major point buried inside: The proposal was first directed at McIlroy, not to Kevin Kisner, James Hahn or Charley Hoffman, the other three players on the board. If Charley Hoffman raises an issue on the Tour, does it make noise? And if so, what does it look like?

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Perhaps most importantly, the proposal was sent to McIlroy on first the day he took a seat on the board of directors, February 14. Sure, the memo was for “further distribution” to the rest of the board, but it was the most literal example of outside influence, of the kind with boatloads of cash and a handful of ideas. news, identifying McIlroy as the key figure to influence professional golf. And they weren’t wrong to do so.

When Rory speaks, everyone listens. Players take notice, journalists write, broadcasters add it to their archive memoirs, and so on. He is infinitely relevant, as evidenced by his 3rd place in the Player Impact Program, behind Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Sometimes McIlroy’s answers are repeated as evidence in questions to other players, and even in questions to Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan. And when all these people talk about Rory’s thoughts, we write about him again. The only player whose name appeared in more headlines than McIlroy last year was Woods.

Want an idea of ​​where the Tour sees itself in three years? Ask McIlroy. He saw revenue forecasts plummet. First, he told us everything: “I mean, there’s a ton of guys here who are going to get rich if they play well, in other words.”

Then he clarified how risky it would be for young players to ignore him: “Maybe they’re not educated enough about it, maybe they have people on their ears who give them misinformation, but the numbers are right there in front of you. The Tour’s finances are independently audited every year, that’s what they are. And I’ve seen it all, I’ve been there.

His positioning at press conferences is cautious, plausibly performative, extremely relatable, and undoubtedly clever. When the idea of ​​a “Super League” was broached a month ago, McIlroy stared at a room full of reporters and said bluntly: “Not so Super League.”

McIlroy is one of the few who can get away with a joke like this because: 1. He’s extremely comfortable with who he is and what he believes in – many pros learn to silence their instincts and thinking sponsors first – and 2. he often adds lyrical context to back up his point.

He is aware of the Tour’s media rights agreement. He knows that the Tour’s financial documents include things as complex as thousands of retirement plans for independent contract players, and as simple as the visors sold at TPC Sawgrass. He understands Why Phil Mickelson wants a bigger slice of the Tour pie, and isn’t afraid to say so. (McIlroy deserves an equally big chunk!) But he’s also long streamlined the entertainment side of that equation. What’s great for gamers isn’t always great for fans, and what’s loved by fans isn’t always so great for gamers. Somewhere in the middle of that spectrum is the current iteration of the PGA Tour.

Elsewhere, it’s this PGL proposal, and elsewhere again, it’s LIV Golf Invitationals. What better way for PGA Tour #79 & #128 & #181 & #207 to get exactly what they want and deserve than one of the best players in the game interested in finding that happy medium?

Time to note that this can happen to any knowledgeable Tour pro. But naturally, most of them only care about the golf ball in front of them. Dozens of pros hid behind the clause I have people who manage these discussions for me. The aforementioned Xander and Collin are two on this list.

McIlroy instead took it upon himself to become the House of Tour’s own speaker, repeatedly using the microphone to speak loudly over the whispers of the separatist leagues. He was approachable, reasonable, straightforward and above all quite proud of his administrative role — qualities we want in all our heads of government.

It’s just that nothing was whispered last week. And going forward, little about the LIV Golf Invitationals will be muted. So, as tired as McIlroy may be of answering questions, they will keep coming. Luckily for us, he’s playing next week at the Valero Texas Open for the first time in nine years. Surely with many thoughts to share.

Accept? To disagree? Please feel free to give praise, criticism or any comments to the author at sean.zak@golf.com.


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