Staunch LIV Golf critic Rory McIlroy has dropped a bombshell in admitting the rebel league has helped progress the PGA Tour.
McIlroy has been by far the most outspoken player amid the ugly fight between Tour professionals and the Saudi-backed LIV headed up by Australian great Greg Norman.
While the money on offer from LIV is astronomical, defectors like Norman and Phil Mickelson have maintained their motivation is to shake the tree and force the almighty PGA Tour into change.
READ MORE: Superstar named sport’s most influential woman
READ MORE: Broncos urged to poach young gun as Reynolds’ heir
READ MORE: Former Sharks coach plots poaching raid amid six-club battle
Specifically, Norman and Mickelson aimed to make the Tour increase prizemoney, support the athletes better, and innovate tournaments for fear of alienating potential new audiences.
And while McIlroy has chastised LIV and its players at every opportunity, he now concedes the goals of Norman, Mickelson and co have been achieved, less than 12 months after the Saudi-funded league launched.
Speaking ahead of The Players Championship, and immediately following a meeting between PGA Tour players to discuss proposed changes, McIroy was asked how much credit LIV should get for forcing new innovations.
”A lot of it,” he said.
“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.
“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 an antiquated system is being revamped to kind of 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.
New golf tournament set to debut in Australia
“LIV coming along, it’s definitely had a massive impact on the game, but I think everyone as a professional golfer is going to benefit from it going forward.”
Specific changes being made by the PGA Tour include; the introduction of new “elevated” events which offer increased prizemoney, events featuring no cut line – which LIV has made a major feature, playing with reduced fields – and there is no longer a requirement to play any of the designated events.
But the PGA Tour has not yet lifted a blanket ban on LIV Golf defectors, meaning many top players will miss The Players at TPC Sawgrass this week – a lucrative event known widely as the sport’s fifth major.
Last year’s champion was Aussie star Cameron Smith, who signed with LIV shortly after winning last year’s British Open at St Andrews.
READ MORE: Smith caught up in ‘delusional’ PGA Tour stand-off
The players who finished on the podium behind Smith last year – Anirban Lahiri and Paul Casey – are also now banned from The Players.
“Would it be better if the defending champion was here this week? Absolutely,” McIlory said of Smith.
“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.”
For a daily dose of the best of the breaking news and exclusive content from Wide World of Sports, subscribe to our newsletter by clicking here!