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Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm explain loyalty to PGA Tour, amid LIV Golf disruption

Brooks Koepka chastises media for asking about LIV Golf at U.S. Open
Brooks Koepka chastises media for asking about LIV Golf at U.S. Open 01:03

BROOKLINE -- On Monday afternoon, Phil Mickelson was asked what appeals to him about the new LIV Golf series.

"I think that there's a certain -- there's an obvious, uh, incredible financial commitment," Mickelson responded in a moment of candor.

The dollars being offered by the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia are, as Mickelson noted, the obvious draw for some of the PGA's biggest stars to jump ship and join the new series of tournaments spanning the globe. With the likes of Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Sergio Garcia, and several other big names from golf already aboard, the appeal is clearly working.

Yet not with everyone.

Rory McIlroy, who's been a vocal opponent of a rival league like the LIV dating back to the Premier Golf League venture in 2020, discussed the controversial matter at length on Tuesday, in the same spot where Mickelson was grilled a day earlier.

"Because in my opinion," McIlroy said when asked why he's become the vocal pro-PGA Tour leader, "it's the right thing to do. The PGA Tour was created by people. And Tour players that came before us -- the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer -- they created something and worked hard for something, and I'd just hate to see all the players that came before us and all the hard work that they've put in just come out to be nothing."

McIlroy added: "[The PGA Tour's charitable contributions are] a massive legacy and something that I don't think people talk enough about. So when you are talking about the Tour and everything that's happening right now, I think you just have to see the bigger picture than just the golf. And I think I've tried to take a wider view of everything, and I just think it's the right thing to do."

McIlroy -- a four-time major champion who won his 21st PGA event last weekend in Toronto -- also spoke to the significance of establishing and maintaining a legacy in the game of golf.

"It's very important to me. It means a lot, going back to history and tradition and putting your name on trophies that have the legends of the game on them. That's really cool, and that's something that money can't buy," the 33-year-old McIlroy said. "Legacy, reputation -- at the end of the day, that's all you have. You strip everything away, and you're left with what? How you made people feel and what people thought of you. That is important to me."

Jon Rahm, who's in Brookline this week as the reigning U.S. Open champion, took that sentiment several steps further.

"I've never really played the game of golf for monetary reasons. I play for the love of the game, and I want to play against the best in the world," Rahm said. "I've always been interested in history and legacy, and right now the PGA Tour has that. There's some meaning when you win the Memorial Championship. There's some meaning when you win Arnold Palmer's event at Bay Hill. There's some meaning when you win L.A., Torrey, some of the historic venues. And hat to me matters a lot. After winning this past U.S. Open, only me and Tiger [Woods] have won at Torrey Pines, and we both -- it's a golf course that we like, making putts on the 18th hole. That's a memory I'm going to have forever that not many people can say.

"My heart is with the PGA Tour," Rahm continued. "That's all I can say."

Rahm said he certainly can understand the appeal of the hundreds of millions of dollars being offered, as well as the $4.75 million won by Charl Schwartzel at LIV's inaugural event. But he said he's happy with where he's at financially, and that the format of the LIV tournaments does not appeal to him.

"When I hear stories of Seve [Ballesteros] and great players in the past, yes, obviously, financial stability is amazing. But when they talk about majors, or when Jack talks about the U.S. Open and winning the U.S. Open and winning the Open, it's more than just the money," Rahm said. "Prizes will always go up, and I consider I make plenty of money doing what I do, obviously. But nobody is talking about winning that [LIV] event in London with the essence that some other events have. And that to me is what's attractive, being able to consider yourself champion of this with the history that comes with it."

Justin Thomas, who won golf's most recent major at the PGA Championship last month, candidly said he understands the draw of the money that LIV is offering. But he also explained what the PGA Tour means to him.

"I tossed and turned and lost a lot of sleep last week thinking about what could potentially happen. I grew up my entire life wanting to play the PGA Tour, wanting to break records, make history, play Presidents Cups, play Ryder Cups. The fact that things like that could potentially get hurt because of some of the people that are leaving, and if more go, it's just sad," Thomas said. "It's really no other way to say it. It just makes me sad, because like I said, I've grown up my entire life wanting to do that, and I don't want to do anything else."

Obviously, LIV Golf just began next week. The absurd dollars being thrown around, combined with the more vague comments from the likes of Brooks Koepka on Tuesday, suggest that more players will be leaving the PGA Tour in the future. McIlroy, Rahm and Thomas were careful not to publicly place judgment on those players who have left and those who may end up leaving, but McIlroy did offer a blunt assessment of the public criticism that has been thrown upon them.

"In this day and age, everything is just so intertwined, and it's hard to separate sport from politics, from dirty money from clean money. It's just, it's a very convoluted world right now," McIlroy said. "I'm not sure if they're totally -- I don't think they're complicit in it, in a way. I think -- look, they all have the choice to play where they want to play, and they've made their decision."

McIlroy added: "My dad said to me a long time ago, 'Once you make your bed, you lie in it.' And they've made their bed. So that's their decision, and they have to live with that."

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