Rory McIlroy thought his differences with Greg Norman over a Saudi-funded rival golf league had been patched up. That changed when Norman accused him of being “brainwashed” by golf’s ruling brass.
“I thought, You know what? I’m going to make it my business now to be as much of a pain in his arse as possible,” McIlroy said in a lengthy interview in the Sunday Independent in Ireland.
The interview with writer Paul Kimmage is the second of three parts. McIlroy also details how his relationship soured with longtime friend Sergio Garcia.
McIlroy and Tiger Woods have said Norman, the CEO and commissioner of LIV Golf, needs to be out of the picture for golf to have any chance of coming together. Norman said that won’t be happening.
“I pay zero attention to McIlroy and Woods, right?” Norman told British magazine Today’s Golfer. “They have their agenda for whatever reason. They’re saying whatever they want to say. It has no bearing or effect on me. I’m going to be with LIV for a long, long period of time.”
McIlroy has been taking shots at Norman since he won the Canadian Open in June, a day after LIV Golf finished its inaugural event outside London. He went out of his way to point out his 21st career PGA Tour win was “one more than someone else.”
“That gave me a little extra incentive today,” McIlroy said.
The reference was to Norman, who has 20 career PGA Tour wins.
When he had a chance to return to No. 1 in the world ranking at the CJ Cup in October, McIlroy was asked whether he had a goal of how many weeks he would like to be No. 1 by the end of his career. He mentioned 332, which is one more than Norman.
Most recently in Dubai last month, McIlroy said the fractured state of golf between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf could not heal as long as Norman is involved.
“I think Greg needs to go. I think he just needs to exit stage left,” McIlroy said, adding that no one would be willing to talk “unless there’s an adult in the room.”
Woods echoed those comments at the Hero World Challenge this week in the Bahamas.
“I am not going anywhere. I don’t care what anybody says. I’m not going anywhere,” Norman told Today’s Golfer. “I am so proud of the position I am in, and maybe, maybe, it’s my leadership that has them scared. Maybe.”
McIlroy said the rift began in February 2020 when talk first surfaced about a “Premier Golf League” backed by Saudi money. McIlroy was the first top player to say he wasn’t interested, adding he wanted to be on the right side of history.
He referenced a moment when Arnold Palmer stood up for the PGA Tour against Norman’s proposed World Golf Tour in 1994. Palmer’s words put a quick end to it.
“[Norman] wasn’t happy, and we had a pretty testy back-and-forth and he was very condescending. ‘Maybe one day you’ll understand’ and all this [stuff],” McIlroy said in the Independent interview.
In April, McIlroy watched an ESPN documentary on Norman’s collapse to lose the 1996 Masters and was moved enough to send Norman a message that included, “Hopefully it reminds everyone of what a great golfer you were.”
McIlroy said Norman had sent him a touching note after McIlroy lost a 4-shot lead in the final round of the 2011 Masters.
“He was great,” McIlroy said. “So I said to him, ‘Watching it reminded me of how you reached out to me in 2011, and I just want to say that I’ll always appreciate it. It meant a lot. I know our opinion on the game of golf right now is very different, but I just wanted you to know that and wish you all the best.’
“So a bit of an olive branch, and he came back to me straightaway: ‘I really think golf can be a force for good around the world. … I know our opinions are not aligned, but I’m just trying to create more opportunities for every golfer around the world.’
“Fine. Really nice,” McIlroy said. “Then, a couple of weeks later, he does an interview with The Washington Post and says I’ve been ‘brainwashed by the PGA Tour.’
“We’ve had this really nice back-and-forth and he says that about me.”
McIlroy added in the interview that the PGA Tour is lucky Norman is involved in LIV because “I think if they had found someone less polarizing, LIV could have made more inroads.”
McIlroy said his two golf idols were Woods and Garcia, describing the Spaniard as an exciting young player. They were at each other’s weddings; McIlroy was even a groomsman for Garcia.
McIlroy said he didn’t know Garcia was joining LIV Golf until the Spaniard said to him on the range at the Wells Fargo Championship that he had a new plane and offered McIlroy a ride to the first LIV event near London.
The relationship soured at the U.S. Open, the week after McIlroy won in Canada. McIlroy had said in his interview that week that players joining LIV Golf were taking the easy way out.
He said he awoke Friday of the U.S. Open to a text from Garcia “basically telling me to shut up about LIV, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”
“I was pretty offended and sent him back a couple of daggers and that was it,” McIlroy said.