World number three Rory McIlroy admits the emergence of the LIV Golf series has forced change in the “antiquated” existing system and dragged the PGA Tour into the 21st century.
The Saudi Arabia-backed breakaway venture was able to lure a host of top names away from the regular circuit with multi-million dollar deals, huge prize funds and no-cut events.
After months of wrangling and discussion, the PGA Tour – in consultation with its top players – has come up with a new schedule for next year which will include eight designated events which will have fields between 70 to 80 players and no cuts.
Prize money has also increased as a result of the competition and, while the new plans have received a mixed response from the rank-and-file players, McIlroy said the improvements were necessary.
“I’m not going to sit here and lie; I think the emergence of LIV, or the emergence of a competitor to the PGA Tour, has benefited everyone that plays elite professional golf,” he said.
“I think when you’ve been the biggest golf league in the biggest market in the world for the last 60 years, there’s not a lot of incentive to innovate.
“This (LIV) has caused a ton of innovation at the PGA Tour and what was quite, I would say, an antiquated system is being revamped to try to mirror where we’re at in the world in the 21st century with the media landscape.
“The PGA Tour isn’t just competing with LIV Golf or other sports. It’s competing with Instagram and TikTok and everything else that’s trying to take eyeballs away from the PGA Tour as a product.
“So, yeah, you know, LIV coming along has definitely had a massive impact on the game but I think everyone who’s a professional golfer is going to benefit from it going forward.”
The Northern Irishman was speaking ahead of this week’s Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Florida.
Last year’s winner Cam Smith, one of the stars of last season who made his major breakthrough with victory in the Open at St Andrews, will not be defending his title having made a late switch to LIV, whose players are currently banned from PGA Tour events.
Asked if that devalued the tournament, McIlroy added: “Do I think, would it be better if the defending champion was here this week? Absolutely.
“But he made a decision that he felt was the best thing for him and he knew that decision was going to come with consequences – and one of the consequences is right now not being able to play on the PGA Tour.”
World number one Jon Rahm also had little sympathy for Smith and, while he is not as big a fan of the PGA Tour changes as McIlroy, he has no doubts as to why they had to be made.
“Oh, it’s LIV Golf, without a doubt. Without LIV Golf this wouldn’t have happened, so to an extent, we should be thankful this threat has made the PGA Tour want to change things,” he said.
Rahm has expressed his disappointment at some of the regulations which will require the players to be present for all designated events.
“I am OK with sacrificing the freedom we’ve had until now or some of the freedom we’ve had until now for the greater good of the Tour,” he added.
“But a 100 per cent of our freedom, just being our schedule being told exactly ‘this is what you have to play’ was a big change right away.
“I would like to be able to have that freedom to still play what we want to play, I think (that) is necessary for all of us.”
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was asked whether there was an option for LIV players to return if they turned their back on the breakaway.
“For some reason I’ve been hearing that a lot lately,” he said.
“The players who are playing on that tour are contractually obliged to play on that tour so any hypotheticals are not relevant. Our position has not changed.”