Rory McIlroy resigned from the PGA Tour board on Tuesday, an abrupt move that comes as the tour is trying to finalise an agreement to create a new commercial enterprise involving Saudi Arabia’s national wealth fund.
McIlroy did not mention his decision earlier in the day at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, though one comment was telling about his three years on the board during some of the tour’s most turbulent times.
In a statement, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan and board chairman Ed Herlihy thanked McIlroy for his dedication and commitment the last five years – two years on the Player Advisory Council, one as PAC chairman who sat in on board meetings, and the last two years as the first international player to serve on the board.
“Rory’s insight has been instrumental in helping shape the success of the tour, and his willingness to thoughtfully voice his opinions has been especially impactful,” they said.
“Given the extraordinary time and effort that Rory – and all of his fellow player directors – have invested in the tour during this unprecedented, transformational period in our history, we certainly understand and respect his decision to step down in order to focus on his game and his family.”
Monahan said in a memo to players earlier Tuesday the tour was working toward finalising an agreement with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia and trying to narrow bids from a handful of private equity firms wanting to invest in the for-profit PGA Tour Enterprises.
The deadline to finalise the tour’s deal with the Saudis, an agreement announced June 6, is the end of the year, though the deadline can be extended.
No player has been more outspoken than McIlroy about the PIF’s financial backing of rival league LIV Golf, which attracted a number of major champions with enormous signing fees. LIV Golf recently completed its second year, and it remains unclear how the PIF’s deal with the tour affects it.
McIlroy constantly criticised Greg Norman, the CEO of LIV Golf, and panned some of the younger players who went to LIV for “taking the easy way out.”
But he was left in the dark about Monahan’s secret negotiations with the PIF in May, along with other top players. The day after the shock announcement, McIlroy said, “It’s hard for me to not sit up here and feel somewhat like a sacrificial lamb and feeling like I’ve put myself out there and this is what happens.”
He also said that day he had come to terms with the Saudi involvement in other sports, and that perhaps the tour was better off being a partner as long as it’s done the right way. As recently as last week, he said he hoped the PIF is involved in the tour deal “and we can bring the game of golf back together.”
Players do not receive fees for serving on the board, and McIlroy got involved in tour business at a rough time. He served on the PAC in 2019 and 2020, the latter right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and the tour finding a way to resume playing.
Through it all was a threat of a new league funded by Saudi Arabian wealth. Even before LIV Golf was created, McIlroy was the first to say he was not interested in a new league, saying he wanted to be “on the right side of history.”
The remaining five player-directors on the 12-member board will elect a successor to serve McIlroy’s term, which ends after next year.