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‘Something had to give’: Rory McIlroy opens up about why he resigned from the PGA Tour Policy Board
DUBAI — It would have been too much to ask for. So it was that, instead of an air of resignation at the end of his opening-round 71 in the DP World Tour Championship, Rory McIlroy was exuding relief after two fairly outrageous pieces of good fortune on the 651-yard closing hole allowed him to escape with an unlikely par 5.
No matter, as so often is the case of late where the World No. 2 is concerned, it was McIlroy’s off-course activities and not a score that sees him four shots off the pace that attracted so many journalists to his post-round huddle just outside the recorder’s office. Specifically, what had been the thinking behind his abrupt Tuesday resignation from the PGA Tour Policy Board ?
Perhaps predictably, McIlroy said it was mostly a time-management issue.
“Something had to give,” McIlroy said. “There are only so many hours in a day and only so many days in a week. I’ve got a lot going on in my life right now between trying to be a world-class golfer and trying to be a good husband and a good father. I’ve got a growing investment portfolio that is taking up more of my time. I’m involved with TGL and sort of in the weeds with that. On top of all that, the Policy Board stuff was taking more of my time than ever this year. I just felt something had to give.”
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Indeed, few could argue that McIlroy, in what are likely to be the peak years of his already storied career, gave plenty to the PGA Tour cause since joining the board in 2021. With some justification, he is clearly proud of the contribution he has made.
“I stepped up and spoke out about something I believed in,” he said. “The landscape changed on June 6 with the announcement [of a framework agreement between the PGA Tour, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and the DP World Tour]. It was never in my control, but from then on I was playing a lesser part because of the decisions that were made. There has been a lot of time spent on this over the last few weeks with different investment groups and meeting different people who are interested. It just got to the point where, although I like being busy, I like being busy on my own things. And it got to the point where I just couldn’t fit it all in.”
Support for McIlroy’s decision wasn’t hard to find. His fellow Irishman, former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, is one who understands the motivation to un-clutter a busy life.
“Resigning has to be a good thing for Rory,” McGinley said. “We’re in the middle of a complex situation that will necessitate a huge amount of input in the coming months. A lot of energy, too. At the height of his career and time when he is playing his best golf, that isn’t something Rory needs. Having said that, the contribution he has made over the last couple of years doesn’t seem to have affected his performance level. In fact, he has been energized by it all.
“I’m not surprised by what Rory has done, or the timing of it,” McGinley continued. “When he went on the board or when he was chairman of the PAC, the landscape of golf was very different. But he walked into the eye of a storm. All of sudden he was right in the middle of it. So he was thrust into a position he didn’t choose or probably could have imagined. And, as much as the last two years have been difficult, the next three-to-six months are going to be much more so. It makes sense for him to let someone else take the lead.”
McIlroy’s close friend, former Open champion Shane Lowry, was another to speak out in support of the Northern Irishman’s decision to focus his considerable energies elsewhere.
“I think Rory is right to do what he has done,” Lowry said. “Not that everything has gone his way the last couple of years, but I spent a lot of time with him and saw what he was having to do. Board meetings. Calls from other players on his weeks off. Players wanting to talk to him when he walks onto a range. I don’t understand why anyone would want to do that job, to be honest.
“I went on the PAC this year and it’s just not worth it,” Lowry went on. “Rory has done a great job, and we were very lucky to have him on our side. He spoke up a lot for us. I’ve often said it to him over the last couple of months, ‘Rory, why bother?’ He’s got every material thing he is ever going to need. All he wants is to win more majors. So that’s all he should focus on.”
Still, although almost a decade has passed since his most recent victory in any of golf’s four most important events, McIlroy was keen to say his involvement in high-level golf politics had not been a factor in his frustrating inability to win a fifth grand Slam title.
“I don’t think my play was affected,” he maintained. “I’ve played really well. I like being busy. I like having things to do away from the golf course. But it just got to the point where it was too much. I enjoyed it. It was an education. I was in the room with some very smart people. I was appreciative of the opportunity. Hopefully that will stand me in good stead with whatever I decide to do in the future.”
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Rory McIlroy Resigns From PGA Tour Board
The decision came about five months after the tour struck an agreement with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund to create a joint company.
By Alan Blinder and Lauren Hirsch
Rory McIlroy, the esteemed golfer who was among the most outspoken opponents of his sport’s swelling ties to Saudi Arabia, has resigned from the PGA Tour’s board.
The tour confirmed his departure in a statement on Tuesday night.
“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,” Commissioner Jay Monahan and Edward D. Herlihy, the board’s chairman, said in the statement.
Mr. McIlroy, the men said, was “instrumental in helping shape the success of the tour, and his willingness to thoughtfully voice his opinions has been especially impactful.”
Mr. McIlroy’s agent did not respond to a message seeking comment.
The decision by Mr. McIlroy came about five months after the tour, following secret negotiations, struck an agreement with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund to try to create a joint company that would end golf’s money-fueled war for supremacy. Most board members, including Mr. McIlroy, had no knowledge of the agreement or the talks that led to it until shortly before it was announced in June and upended the duel between the tour and LIV Golf , the league Saudi Arabia built with a blend of billions of dollars and marquee defections from the PGA Tour.
Mr. McIlroy soon expressed a pragmatic fatalism about the agreement — which calls for the tour and the wealth fund to combine their commercial golf businesses — and the proposed partnership with Saudi Arabia, which has been expanding its investments in sports.
“If you’re thinking about one of the biggest sovereign wealth funds in the world, would you rather have them as a partner or an enemy?” Mr. McIlroy asked on June 7, the day after the tour announced the transaction, which has still not closed. “At the end of the day, money talks, and you would rather have them as a partner.”
But he also made no secret that the tour’s machinations had blindsided and stung him. Few golfers had been more strident critics of LIV and the players who joined it, and the PGA Tour had benefited from the credibility of a four-time major tournament winner’s serving, in effect, as its leading public champion.
“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,” Mr. McIlroy, who was also among the tour’s leaders during the pandemic, said at the same news conference in Toronto.
Although he soldiered on, he signaled this week that he had tired of the role. Asked in the United Arab Emirates whether he was enjoying his board tenure, Mr. McIlroy replied: “Not particularly, no. Not what I signed up for whenever I went on the board. But yeah, the game of professional golf has been in flux for the last two years.”
He gave no hint that an exit was in the offing.
On Monday, the 12-member board finished a meeting at the tour’s headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., where it heard about a handful of bids for minority stakes that could usurp or come alongside any money from the Saudis. In a memo to players on Tuesday, Mr. Monahan, the tour’s commissioner, said the board had “agreed to continue the negotiation process in order to select the final minority investor(s) in a timely manner.”
Mr. Monahan said in his memo that the tour had heard from “dozens” of prospects about potential investments and winnowed the candidates to a smaller group for board review. For the tour, which has faced blowback from Congress and the Justice Department over its evolving approach to working with Saudi Arabia, there are stakes beyond money.
Some players and executives believe that a role for influential American investors could diminish Washington’s criticism of — and possible efforts to block — the transaction.
“Even if a deal does get done, it’s not a sure thing,” Mr. McIlroy said this week. “So yeah, we are just going to have to wait and see. But in my opinion, the faster something gets done, the better.”
Mr. McIlroy is the second person to resign from the tour’s board since the summer. In July, Randall Stephenson, the former AT&T chief executive, quit the seat he had occupied for a dozen years, citing his “serious concerns with how this framework agreement came to fruition without board oversight.” At the time, Mr. Stephenson wrote that he could not “objectively evaluate or in good conscience support” the agreement, especially given the conclusion of U.S. intelligence services that Saudi Arabia was responsible for the murder of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Mr. Stephenson’s departure turned heads on Wall Street and in golf’s inner sanctums. But the decision by Mr. McIlroy is a particularly public blow to the tour and its board. Although the group still includes figures like Tiger Woods and Patrick Cantlay, Mr. McIlroy, 34, has long been one of golf’s most amiable stars.
When the time came, though, for the tour to engage in negotiations with the wealth fund, he was among the board members left out of the talks.
Only two members, Mr. Herlihy, a partner at the Wall Street law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, and James J. Dunne III, vice chairman of the investment bank Piper Sandler, were involved. The secrecy infuriated other board members and helped stir a player uprising that led to the summertime installation of Mr. Woods as a director.
Hours before the tour acknowledged Mr. McIlroy’s resignation, it announced a replacement for Mr. Stephenson, Joseph W. Gorder, the executive chairman of Valero’s board.
Alan Blinder is a national correspondent for The Times, covering education. He has reported from more than 35 states, as well as Asia and Europe, since joining The Times in 2013. More about Alan Blinder
Lauren Hirsch joined The Times from CNBC in 2020, covering deals and the biggest stories on Wall Street. More about Lauren Hirsch
Rory McIlroy resigns from PGA TOUR Policy Board due to personal and professional commitments
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Citing personal and professional commitments, Rory McIlroy has notified the PGA TOUR Policy Board that he is resigning his position as a Player Director.
McIlroy served on the Board for two years after spending the previous three years as a member of the Player Advisory Council. Those five years were marked by unprecedented challenges in the world of golf, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the emergence of LIV Golf. He has been a vocal leader for the players as the PGA TOUR navigates its future and proceeds toward a Definitive Agreement with the PIF and DP World Tour following the Framework Agreement that was announced on June 6.
“During his tenure, Rory’s insight has been instrumental in helping shape the success of the TOUR, and his willingness to thoughtfully voice his opinion has been especially impactful,” PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan in a memo sent to players Tuesday evening.
McIlroy, 34, enters 2024 in his customary position as one of the world’s best players. He is a three-time FedExCup champion and recently clinched his fifth Race to Dubai title. McIlroy is currently ranked No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, as well, and is coming off a year in which he won both the Hero Dubai Desert Classic and Genesis Scottish Open.
But while he is accustomed to playing a global schedule, McIlroy also will have the added responsibilities that will come with the debut of the TGL in 2024. McIlroy is not only a member of Boston Common Golf – along with Adam Scott, Keegan Bradley and Tyrrell Hatton – but also a co-founder, along with Tiger Woods, of TMRW Sports, which created the tech-infused golf league.
“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,” Commissioner Monahan wrote in the memo.
Speaking from this week’s DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, McIlroy said that his responsibilities as a Board member have been greater than anticipated.
“Not what I signed (up) for whenever I went on the Board," he said. "The game of professional golf has been in flux for the last two years.” He also added that the professional game is “in really good shape.”
Per PGA TOUR Tournament Regulations, whenever the office of any Player Director becomes vacant due to resignation, the remaining Player Directors elect a successor to serve his unexpired term. McIlroy’s term expires at the end of 2024.
Tiger Woods, Patrick Cantlay, Charley Hoffman, Peter Malnati and Webb Simpson are the remaining Player Directors.
Rory McIlroy resigns as player director on PGA Tour policy board
Rory McIlroy hits a sensational tee shot on the par-3 17th hole to seal a shutout for Team Europe in the Friday foursomes. (0:30)
- Senior college football writer
- Author of seven books on college football
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ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Georgia -- Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy , one of the PGA Tour's most vocal supporters during its battle with LIV Golf, has resigned as a player director on the tour's influential policy board, a tour official confirmed to ESPN on Tuesday.
McIlroy, the No. 2 golfer in the world, announced his resignation in a letter to the full policy board Tuesday. He joined the board in 2022 and was expected to serve through 2024. He cited personal and professional commitments in making his decision to leave the board.
"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 and Edward D. Herlihy, the policy board's chairman, said in a statement, as first reported by The New York Times.
McIlroy was blindsided by the PGA Tour's controversial decision on June 6 to enter into a framework agreement to form a partnership with Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund and the DP World Tour. He had been a loud critic of the breakaway LIV Golf League, which is being funded by Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund.
McIlroy wasn't informed of the framework agreement until a few hours before it was announced by Monahan and PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan on CNBC.
At a news conference at the RBC Canadian Open the day after the deal was announced, McIlroy admitted that he was stung by the news after taking such a strong stance against LIV Golf, which had poached star golfers like Dustin Johnson , Brooks Koepka , Bryson DeChambeau , Phil Mickelson and others from the PGA Tour with guaranteed contracts worth more than $100 million.
"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," McIlroy said in Toronto.
In the end, however, McIlroy seemed resigned to the fact that the PGA Tour couldn't keep battling the Saudis' deep pockets on both the course and in the courts. The framework agreement ended a costly legal battle between the circuits.
"If you're thinking about one of the biggest sovereign wealth funds in the world, would you rather have them as a partner or an enemy?" McIlroy said in Toronto. "At the end of the day, money talks, and you would rather have them as a partner."
The framework agreement hasn't been finalized, and the PGA Tour has been weighing additional investment offers from U.S.-based companies over the past few months. The framework agreement is set to expire on Dec. 31, although sources have told ESPN that it can be extended.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, ahead of this week's DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, McIlroy said his role on the policy board wasn't one he had enjoyed.
"Not particularly, no," McIlroy said. "Not what I signed for whenever I went on the board. But yeah, the game of professional golf has been in flux for the last two years. Again, the overall game I think is in really good shape. But everyone focuses on this top level because it is what it is, and it's an entertainment product and it's a show, but the faster that it gets rectified, I think the better for everyone."
McIlroy served as a member of the player advisory council from 2019 to 2021, serving the last year as PAC chairman. In his two years as a player director on the policy board, he dealt with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing battle with LIV Golf.
"During his tenure, 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," Monahan wrote in a text message that was distributed to PGA Tour members Tuesday night.
McIlroy, 34, is entering what might be the twilight of his professional golf career. He has won 42 times around the world, including 24 times on the PGA Tour, but hasn't captured a major championship since winning the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky. He needs to win the Masters to complete the career Grand Slam but is 0-for-9 in trying to win a green jacket.
Tiger Woods joined the policy board as a sixth player director on Aug. 1. The remaining player directors include Charley Hoffman (who will be replaced by Adam Scott on Jan. 1), Webb Simpson , Peter Malnati and Patrick Cantlay . The board also comprises five independent directors and one director representing the PGA of America.
Per PGA Tour regulations, the remaining player directors will elect a successor to serve for the unexpired term. McIlroy's term expires at the end of 2024.
Masters champion Jon Rahm told reporters in Dubai on Wednesday that he was not interested in joining the policy board.
"You won't see me there," Rahm said. "Absolutely no chance. I've been asked a couple times if I have any interest. I don't know how many meetings they have, but they are six, seven hours-plus long. I'm not here for that."
On Tuesday, the tour announced that Joseph W. "Joe" Gorder, executive chairman of Valero Energy Corporation, has been unanimously approved to replace former independent director Randall Stephenson on the policy board.
Stephenson, a former AT&T chairman, resigned in protest over the PIF deal.