McIlroy questions competitive desire of players in LIV Golf

Rory McIlroy says he was wrong about his prediction in February that the Saudi-backed rival golf league was “dead in the water.”

ByDoug Ferguson Ap Golf Writer
June 14, 2022, 5:32 PM
Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, hits a drive on number 13 at The Country Club, Tuesday, June 14, 2022, in Brookline, Mass., during a practice round ahead of the U.S. Open golf tournament. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
The Associated Press

BROOKLINE, Mass. -- Rory McIlroy had two strong comments about the future of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series in February. So far, one has been proven incorrect.

“Dead in the water,” McIlroy said, referring to all the top players saying they were staying not interested. He had an explanation for that: Players like Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau said in statements they were staying put and “I took them at their word.”

Earlier in that week, he referred to the startup league as a “pre-Champions Tour" because so many players were at the tail end of their careers. That much remains largely true — so far. More players could sign up in the coming weeks.

Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen all can fit that pre-Champions Tour mode. DeChambeau and Patrick Reed? Not so much.

That's what mystifies the 33-year-old McIlroy.

“A lot of these guys are in their late 40s — in Phil’s case, early 50s,” he said. "They would say to you themselves that their best days are behind them. That’s why I don’t understand for the guys that are a similar age to me going. Because I would like to believe that my best days are still ahead of me, and I think theirs are, too.

“So that’s where it feels like you’re taking the easy way out.”

NOT SO PERFECT GOLF

Jon Rahm knows as well as anyone how hard it is to win a major, much less a U.S. Open. It was only reviewing highlights of his win last year at Torrey Pines that he realized that great golf and perfect golf are not the same.

It helps to already have one major, so he said that eases a little of the pressure. He feels he can enjoy the U.S. Open a little more knowing he doesn't have to do anything special.

“It's easy to think you need to be playing perfect golf,” Rahm said. "And I remember watching my highlights of Sunday last year, and I thought I played one of the best rounds of my life. And I kept thinking, ‘I cannot believe how many fairway bunkers I hit that day, how many greens I missed, and how many putts I missed.’

“It's golf, and that's how it is,” he said. “You truly don’t have to play perfect, and that’s I think the best lesson I can take from that.”

BROOKLINE MEMORIES

Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Sergio Garcia are the only players at the U.S. Open who played in the 1999 Ryder Cup. Those aren't the only players making a return to The Country Club.

Four players who reached the quarterfinals of the 2013 U.S. Amateur also made it into the U.S. Open at Brookline. That starts with Matt Fitzpatrick, the winner. It also includes Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, Corey Conners of Canada and Brandon Matthews.

Scheffler had an amazing run. He needed 20 holes to beat Stewart Jolly in the first round, 20 holes to beat Brandon Hagy in the second round and he beat Matthias Schwab on the 18th hole to reach the quarterfinals. He lost to Brady Watt, 2 and 1.

“I remember being down in pretty much all my matches and coming back,” Scheffler said. “On the three that I won, I came back late on all of them. I think I made a big putt against maybe Brandon Hagy — may have been Brandon — on 17. I have good memories of this place.”

QUALIFYING BLUES

Collin Morikawa is a two-time major champion at age 25, the No. 7 player in the world who can expect to be exempt in the U.S. Open for years to come.

It wasn't always that easy.

“Yeah, well, I suck at qualifying. I really do," Morikawa said Tuesday.

He said he never made it to a U.S. Junior and he can think of only one U.S. Amateur appearance when he was exempt through his amateur ranking. As for the U.S. Open? He went through qualifying three times while at Cal and never came particularly close.

“I decided I hate California — no, I'm kidding,” the California native said.

He missed out by four shots at Lake Merced in San Francisco in 2016 and in 2018. In between, the U.S. Open sectional was in Newport Beach. He missed that by seven shots.

“I just never played well in those events and decided to go to the Ohio one three years ago,” he said. “Made that. The rest is history.”

He made it through Columbus — known as the PGA Tour qualifier because it has the strongest field and the most spots — without a shot to spare. That was in 2019, and he tied for 35th at Pebble Beach in his second tournament as a pro.

Four starts later, he was a PGA Tour winner. A year later, he was a major champion. Yes, the rest is history.

A CADDIE'S LIFE

Rory McIlroy is back to work with his old caddie for the U.S. Open.

Harry Diamond, a longtime friend and Irish amateur player, has been on McIlroy's bag the last five years but was home last week as his wife gave birth to their second child. McIlroy had a backup plan — former Irish rugby union player Niall O'Connor — when he won the RBC Canadian Open for his first win this year.

“Niall and I's run has come to an end at this point,” McIlroy said. “Pretty good record. Had a fourth in Dubai and a first in Canada. If I ever need someone to jump in for Harry, I've got a pretty good substitute there.”

STAT OF THE DAY

Of the six news conferences Tuesday, Scottie Scheffler was the only player who was not asked about the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series.

FINAL WORD

“If you want to be one of the best players in the world, this is the country where you need to play the majority of your golf.” — Rory McIlroy.

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