Rory McIlroy prioritises golf ‘traditions’ despite LIV links and Jon Rahm’s frustration shows why

Since the breakaway league debuted as a competitor to the PGA Tour in the summer of 2022, few people have been more critical of the LIV Golf circuit than Rory McIlroy.

The Northern Irishman was among the first to dismiss the notion of a possible golf league financed by Saudi Arabia, calling the original Greg Norman-led plans “dead in the water.” After McIlroy’s claims were refuted after four months, the LIV setup has only gotten stronger, despite still having many flaws.

After a year of internal strife within the industry, it seemed as though the PGA Tour and LIV would soon put an end to their disagreement when a shocking framework agreement was revealed.

Although a deal has not yet been finalized, it is anticipated that after discussions, a peace treaty will be drafted to bring professional golf back together. Following the agreement, McIlroy, who was the leading spokesperson initially against the Saudi-backed series, has softened his position.

The four-time major winner acknowledged earlier this year that he might have been “too judgmental” toward those who chose to participate in the LIV circuit. Additionally, McIlroy has allowed Phil Mickelson and company to reenter the PGA Tour. While many of his colleagues disagree, McIlroy feels that they should be allowed to return without facing any repercussions.

Does this imply, however, that the 33-year-old is prepared to pull the greatest u-turn of all and sign the contract with the Saudi-backed arrangement? Not for me, anyway. It is difficult to imagine a switch occurring, even after a report from City A.M. on Sunday claimed that an unexpected £682 million deal for McIlroy to join LIV was ‘close’.

Although a lot has happened in the nine months since the European star’s admission at the Scottish Open last July that he would prefer to retire from professional golf, it is evident that McIlroy’s allegiances remain with the PGA Tour. Just one month ago, he reiterated this position to ESPN, saying, “[LIV is not for me.

“I lean too traditionalistically. I have an unhealthy obsession with winning golf tournaments. I enjoy admiring the trophy and realizing that someone else, like Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo, Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, or Sam Snead, took first place. In our game, I think that’s really important.”

Jon Rahm, who became LIV’s biggest coup last December after signing for an alleged £450 million, was one man who did rock the golfing world by defecting to a Saudi-backed series. Even though the Spaniard seems to have enjoyed his time leading Legion XIII, some frustration seems to have recently surfaced, and in light of Rahm’s remarks, it’s difficult to avoid drawing comparisons to McIlroy’s “traditionalist” stance.

There’s no denying that LIV is a novel concept in the golf industry, and they take great pride in that. They do, however, lack two elements that are fundamental to the sport—history and tradition—when compared to their PGA Tour competitors.

Rahm gave up the opportunity to defend three titles in three months at this year’s Sentry, American Express, and Genesis Invitationals, but he has freely acknowledged that he missed the opportunity to compete in a number of PGA Tour events that are dear to his heart. In his pre-Masters press conference, he emphasized this even more, and it was difficult to ignore the hint of regret that permeated both his play and his interviews.

The former Masters champion, who has only participated in 54-hole events since making his enormously lucrative move, also seems eager to return to 72-hole golf. “I think it would help all of this argument a lot if there ever was a way where LIV could go to 72 holes,” he stated last week at Augusta.

“It would be beneficial if we could bring LIV Golf closer to some other things. I believe it would be for a world tour or something similar to feed into some sort of unification. I’m not sure if I’m the only one, but I would really enjoy returning to 72 holes.”

Although Rahm’s move was the biggest success in LIV’s poaching process to date, McIlroy’s acquisition would undoubtedly win that accolade. But it seems like a long way off before Norman and the Northern Irishman are seen firmly embracing while sporting LIV baseball caps.

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