Tiger and Rory Save The Day…For Now

Like Arnie and Jack a half-century ago, the two most influential names in the game have joined forces to reshape the PGA Tour 

By Alan Shipnuck

ATLANTA—On Wednesday morning at the Tour Championship, Jay Monahan and Rory McIlroy journeyed to the press room in back-to-back appearances to trumpet some of the most sweeping changes in the history of the modern PGA Tour. One demonstrated a galvanizing fortitude and leadership, putting the game on his shoulders. The other is the commissioner of the PGA Tour. 

In this tense, fraught moment for the sport, the wee lad from Northern Ireland has become a towering figure. But McIlroy has not been going at it alone. In fairness to Monahan, he displayed an impressive nimbleness in remaking the Tour just eight days after a closed-door, players-only meeting gave him the mandate for change, and he brought the right resolute tone to his presser. However, his rightful title should now be co-commissioner, alongside McIlroy and another figure who loomed large in absentia: Tiger Woods. 

In these eight days that have shaken professional golf, Rory and Tiger have further emerged as the faces and voices of the Tour, evoking the activism of Jack and Arnie when the Tour was born of rebellion in 1968 as the players broke away from the rigid bureaucracy of the PGA of America. There is more than a passing resemblance between these linked pairs of legends. Nicklaus and Palmer were born a decade apart, while Woods is 13 years McIlroy’s senior. On the golf course, Jack was tactical and Arnie daring, just as Tiger is a plodding strategist compared to the freewheeling Rory. The personable Palmer connected intensely with the fans in the same way McIlroy does, while Nicklaus and Woods have always been more remote figures. But this battle for the soul of golf has stirred something deep within Tiger.

A week ago he jetted to the first FedEx Cup playoff event, in which he wasn’t competing, to convene a meeting with 22 of the biggest names on Tour. Trudging onto the tarmac in Wilmington, Del., Woods had the air of a disappointed dad cutting short lunch with friends to return home and scold his quarreling children. Once he was in the room, the other players felt the weight of his presence. “Any time I see Tiger I feel a little electricity,” Max Homa says. “It’s always weird to be in a room with Tiger Woods. I don’t think I’ll get over that one.”

McIlroy dusted Woods at the 2012 Honda Classic to reach world No. 1 for the first time, at 22, and they have circled each other ever since. Rory is now Tiger’s peer in every way but even he is not immune to the cult of personality. “It’s funny, I never in a million years thought that I would be in this position in particular, and in this position doing this stuff with Tiger Woods,” McIlroy said during his state-of-the-Tour press conference. “I said to him the other day, I remember the first golf shot I ever saw him hit live. It was the 5th hole at [the World Golf Championship at] Mount Juliet with my dad, and I watched him hit a drive off the 5th tee and a long iron into the middle of the green, a par-5. Tiger was my idol ever since I watched him play the 1996 U.S. Amateur. He has been an idol and a hero of mine over the years, and I feel pretty lucky that I’ve gotten to know him more intimately than some. And he is so passionate about what we’re doing. He realizes that the PGA Tour gave him a platform to build his brand and let him be who he is, and he has tremendous respect about the people that have come before us. Having his influence and having his counsel, not just myself but all of the players on the PGA Tour, he’s a great advocate to have, and it’s awesome to be doing these things with him. I have to pinch myself pretty much every day that I’m in this position.”

Tiger and Rory

Yet Woods needs McIlroy, and he knows it. Tiger is rarely on Tour these days, and the younger players barely know him. Rory is more accessible to his peers and more personable. (There is also a subset of fans who will never forgive Woods for his scandals and transgressions; meanwhile, the squeaky-clean McIlroy is universally beloved and respected.) Tiger recruited Rory to be a partner in a new venture that was announced on Wednesday, TGL (Tech-infused Golf Leagues), which will bring together teams of Tour players for Monday exhibitions played on indoor simulators in front of a live audience. Sounds kooky, sure, but its larger significance is that it signals a friendly alliance between Woods and McIlroy in a way that Tiger could never forge with his prickly contemporary Phil Mickelson. (Anyone remember their now-fizzled made-for-TV franchise of manó-y-manó matches?) Tiger and Rory have spent the last two years putting together TGL. Co-founder Mike McCarley has observed them closely and says this about the dynamic: “There is a mutual respect there. Tiger values Rory, and he listens to him. He certainly doesn’t treat him like a little brother. Maybe a nephew.”

The mind-melding of Woods and McIlroy went to another level in recent weeks as they held a series of exploratory conversations with the Raine Group, a venue capitalist firm that has had a hand in various blockbuster sports deals, including the $4 billion sale of the Ultimate Fighting Championship league. Tiger and Rory have been investigating the benefits of the Tour renouncing its non-profit status and privatizing, which would lead to an eight-figure tax bill but allow for billions of dollars in outside investment. It is the kind of big, bold thinking that may be required to fend off the continued encroachment of LIV Golf. The Tour is paying for its newly announced slate of mega-tournaments with cash reserves—Phil was right!—and by squeezing existing sponsors for extra millions. Neither source is inexhaustible. On Wednesday, Monahan affirmed that he wants the Tour to maintain its 501(c)6 status but signaled an openness to creative work-arounds, saying, “Can you create for-profit subsidiaries? Are there other things you can do to create value as you go forward for the members? Yes.”

The jousting between these rival tours is far from over. Next week more PGA Tour members will jump ship, and LIV’s potentially game-changing antitrust lawsuit continues to grind through the court system. But the Tour, which has been on the defensive ever since LIV launched in the spring, has finally made some big, bold moves. Of course, McIlroy was front and center, even as he hailed Woods’s work in the shadows. “One of the greatest feelings in the world is when your idol becomes your friend,” says Tony Finau, “and I know Rory is feeling that now. I think it’s a cool relationship that is benefiting all of us.”

Homa took that sentiment one step further, saying, “It’s very, very, very powerful to have them both leading the way. I think it is a huge testament to Rory. What is he, 35? [Actually, 33.] He’s got a young kid. He’s got a lot better things to probably do with his time, but he’s fighting so hard to make the PGA Tour as good as it can possibly be. Watching the guys you look up to, who aren’t that much older than you, doing these big endeavors is pretty impressive in my opinion. I think Tiger could do OK on this on his own, but I would say having Rory on your side is not exactly a bad thing. Everybody could use a Rory in their life.”

24 thoughts on “Tiger and Rory Save the Day…For Now”

  1. Thanks, Allan. It seems we can count on the Firepit to bring us timely and important coverage of all things “golf.” Just wondering how many LIV players, especially the youngest ones, are taking this in. The current news you report on, I am guessing, would REALLY appeal to some of those players, but as Jay M. made clear today, it is too late for them. It is quite sad to think that some of these young and excellent professional athletes may be really regretting their jump for the money. Now they are doomed to a “tour” where improving their skills for real golf tournaments (72 holes, staggered starts, no has beens or recent amateurs in the field, etc.) will be more difficult as LIV is really just an exhibition tour. Isn’t it somewhat prescient of Rory to have said months ago: “Any decision you make in your life that’s purely for money, usually doesn’t end up going the right way.” — Rory McIlroy. @McIlroyRory.

  2. Great article & reporting as usual, Alan. If Tiger always had Rory’s personality, he may have become the most popular athlete of all time. That said, he probably wouldn’t achieved his level of greatness, & maybe why Rory hasn’t won 10 Majors by now

    1. This comment is patently mindless. I just read Shack’s “quad” regarding the Monahan announcements and there was no “reporting,” only the usual snark from a blogger who neither reports nor offers viable solutions. Shackelford remains on the sidelines of golf journalism; just one more guy with a keyboard tossing around unimportant opinions.

      1. I think you’d find that prominent writers like Shipnuck and Bamberger have a great respect for Geoff and his place in the golf community. Hardly just a blogger. For example, Shackelford has been leading the charge about distance and has offered his logical solutions. We are the guys with keyboards and unimportant opinions.

  3. It’s a little unfortunate that you had Toobin on a few days before this new development. I wonder if Monahan’s moves will be seen as the actions of a monopolist attempting to drive out his only competitor. In short, how will today’s announcements impact the LIV anti trust litigation? Hint: maybe you can bring back Toobin in a week or so to unpack these developments. Of all your guests he brings the best balance of entertainment and information. I hope he will be a regular.

    On the face of it, today’s announcements really deliver a body blow to the momentum LIV had going into the week with the rumors that they are about to sign 7 PGA Tour golfers to long term contracts. I wonder if there is any wiggle room for these guys (especially Cam) to back out now.

    It looks to me that ultimately the tour with the best lawyers will eventually win the battle for the kingdom of golf. Did Monahan win the battle today with the possibility that he could lose the war in federal court in two years?

  4. Looks like Phil, Norman and LIV have exposed the PGAT for what they really are, a group of rapacious monopolists that have been screwing their players for decades. Tour players/caddies/agents should be kissing Norman’s “man-dates” after forcing Monahan to pry open his wallet and create millions more in purses and benefits.

    1. According to “commissioner” Greg Norman, the LIV thingy is a rousing success. He (and the Saudi government) have created a competing golf tour. If all this is true, how then can the PGA Tour be considered a “monopoly?” As to where all the new cash is coming from, you are aware of the new TV deals, right? ESPN+ is now heavily involved so perhaps bone up on a few facts before spewing nonsense. You, of course, are free to enjoy every minute of the scintillating LIV “Golf but Louder” action. You do have YouTube, don’t you? I hear Schwartzel, Grace and Stenson are on a real tear.

    2. Spot on Bobby. Agree 100%. LIV has forced the change, in the same way that Packer did to cricket in the ‘70’s. Good for them, there are no sacred cows, not even the PGA Tour.

  5. The PGA plugged a hole in the dam with this idea of let’s throw more money at a problem. The problem is the PGA is only serving a small mass and forgetting the rest including golf fans. So the selected best players will be continued be paid the most what has changed other than LIV.

  6. At the end of the day LIV just does not have a compelling product. Make no mistake, SIF wants a positive return. Only they can measure what that return is, but it is either 1. financial, or 2. an improved image of Saudi. They have spent Billion$ and have almost zero revenue, so a pathway to profitability is certainly far away. Clearly 1. is out of the question. And 2, has MBS improved his image? With the lawsuits and snarky comments from Norman they are losing that battle. Patrick Reed and LIV better hope that his lawsuit never goes to trial as it will open it up for a rigorous defense which will include endless videos and eye witnesses to Reed actually, yes, being a cheater. But perhaps worse for SIF is the defense is also open to showing all sorts of Saudi atrocities to prove they are as bad as depicted by Chamblee and others. How long does the SIF continue pouring money down a rat hole only to make their bad reputation worse?

    1. @Jim Hawley
      I wish you were right, but can you say ‘Aramco’?
      In preparation for going down that ‘atrocities’ (defence) route, the TOUR may benefit from having a re-think about the limits of sponsorship, – eg, who and what is acceptable as a sponsor?

      1. Hey KHEALA…well said…and the main sponsor of the PGAT and the Tour Championship itself (that shipping company) has a huge presence in Saudi. The Players Championship – “by and for the players” – is backed by three sponsors having huge financial dealings in Saudi. Somewhere around 20 PGAT sponsors have financial ties to Saudi. No problem with “The Tour” and their marketing guru, Jay, taking that money. How many players are wearing Nike? Pretty sure nobody has the moral high ground when it comes to all things financial.

        1. Rick, There are limits as to what we find ‘acceptable’ – we all set them.
          For many journos, writers and editors, golf world inclusive, Jamal leaving the hotel inside a small case – was a wake-up call. However, for the TOUR to be effective in fighting for their / our future, they might need to walk the talk more carefully. Eg, they could take a more considered look at ALL their sponsors, and perhaps think about what they are promoting and what they represent.

  7. LIV has at least one fatal flaw – the lack of “Q-Rating”. Rory, in particular, has a higher level of appeal and likability than the entire LIV contingent combined. Although they’ve signed some really good players, they just haven’t signed genuinely good guys. I doubt that Norman, or the SIF value this, particularly since Norman appears to be cut from the same cloth. I’ll take Rory and give you the LIV field.

    This contrast was especially striking watching the Payne Stewart Awards this week. Billy Andrade was honored – one of the true good guys ever to be out there – was voted in by past recipients. Many were there to celebrate the occasion and the contributions of these standouts. Let me know when anything nearly as genuine or moving happens over at LIV.

  8. Great reporting Alan & Firepit – just a few queries….
    OWGR – why is there v little mention or discussion of whether or not LIV members will be allowed access? Surely access to this is key to LIV survival and to their ability to attract top players?
    Majors – I see the 4 majors or on the PGA list… does that mean that the ‘owners’ of these 4 have given formal consent to PGA to include them and by inference, will not be inviting/ allowing LIV players participate?
    Lastly, the DP Tour is a loser in this new arrangement so would/ should the PGA consider elevating iconic & historic Opens such as the Irish & Australian Opens to the same level as the Scottish Open to preserve their status and to encourage golfers in those countries that those countries will not be left behind?
    Thank you – Dermot

  9. Terrific conversation and insights by everyone in The Fire Drill…Alan, Michael, Ryan, and Mac Bernhardt, of course. Loved that Alan’s using “Unintended Consequences” for today’s headline. Heading into murky waters, for sure, and as the new PGAT monies start to flow downhill, there’ll be additional unintended consequences uncovered and identified. Liked Alan’s comment about whether it was Jay Monahan’s hubris or inner-belief in the Tour’s strength that allowed him to brush off his question from a year ago about storm clouds on the horizon with new challenges to Jay’s fiefdom (my characterization, not Alan’s)…as well as Jay’s refusal to take a more recent phone call from Greg Norman.
    I would say that if Jay Monahan had had a sit-down with Alan, Michael, Mac, and Greg (not just for comic relief – a serious person) he would have come out of the meeting a smarter fellow. I’m sure it never crossed Jay’s mind.

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