Rory McIlroy applies a PGA Tour-niquet…for now

Last week started poorly for both Rory McIlroy and the PGA Tour but ended on a positive note (at least for Rory).

As Tiger Woods remains wounded by his long-term injuries and world #1 golfer Jon Rahm now plays for the rival LIV Golf League, Rory McIlroy is the biggest draw on the PGA Tour.  He just picked-up his 26th career win on Sunday in Charlotte, too.

The PGA Tour desperately needs Rory McIlroy to shine more than ever right about now.

Let’s discuss Rory’s evolving story 

When LIV Golf hit the scene about two years ago in 2022, Rory McIlroy was one of the most vocal opponents of the new golf tour.  While some of his fellow PGA Tour players accepted millions in bonus bucks from LIV Golf and their Saudi Arabian backers, it was Rory McIlroy who let them know, “Don’t let the screen door hit you on your way out!”

Just one year later in June, 2023, the PGA Tour surprised everyone by announcing a merger with LIV Golf was to take place by the end of 2023.  At that point, Rory McIlroy began to soften his criticism of LIV Golf as this merger appeared likely in 2024.

As negotiations between the two rival men’s golf leagues apparently hit a snag, the PGA Tour announced a $3 billion partnership with US-based Strategic Sports Group in late January, 2024.  Though neither the PGA Tour nor LIV Golf have called-off their merger, Rory McIlroy started to sound more sympathetic to the LIV Golf group for playing more tournaments on the world stage.

In recent weeks, the rumor mill was filled with stories that Rory McIlroy had been offered upwards of $800 million to join the rival LIV Golf league.  Both Rory and LIV Golf president Greg Norman vigorously stated that no offers had been made.

For Rory, this past week started in even more controversy.  Apparently, some of his fellow PGA Tour members may have denied him a seat on the PGA’s Policy Board to replace the departing Webb Simpson.  McIlroy had resigned from that same Policy Board last November as he cited personal and professional commitments.

After being denied a return to the Policy Board last week, word spread that a few of Rory’s fellow PGA Tour members such as Tiger Woods, Patrick Cantlay, and Jordan Speith had been among those who had voted against placing him into the vacant board seat.

What are friends for, right?

Instead, the PGA Tour placed the 35-year old Northern Ireland golf star onto a different committee.  It is tasked with studying the nearly one-year old merger proposal with LIV Golf.

To his credit, Rory McIlroy downplayed this rather obvious slight from the top ranks of the PGA hierarchy and pledged to help the committee’s work on a possible merger with LIV Golf.

“It got pretty complicated and pretty messy, and I think with the way it happened, it opened up some old wounds and scar tissue from things that have happened before,” said McIlroy late last week.

He added, “There was a subset of people on the board that were maybe uncomfortable with me coming back on for some reason. I wouldn’t say it was rejected. It was a complicated process to get through to put me back on there. So that’s all fine, no hard feelings and we’ll all move on.”

Moral of this story:  Don’t make Rory McIlroy mad!

I don’t know about you, but I think last week’s PGA Tour board snub appeared to have lit a fire under Rory on the golf course over the weekend.  In Sunday’s final round, he played like “Ryder Cup Rory” with a barrage of birdies and eagles as he zoomed to the top of the leaderboard at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte.

During an eight-hole stretch in the middle of his final round, McIlroy went on an incredible 8-under par binge.  Beginning on the eighth hole, Rory bagged two eagles on the par-5 holes and added four more birdies.  By the time he reached the 16th tee, McIlroy had pulled away from playing competitor Xander Schauffele, won by five shots, and earned a cool $3 million first prize.

This week, the tour moves to Louisville, Kentucky for the PGA Championship.  The last time it was played at this location (Valhalla Country Club) ten years ago, the 2014 winner was none other than Rory McIlroy.

Needless to say, the PGA Tour, CBS Sports, and Golf Channel are thrilled that Rory’s golf game is peaking at the right time this week.  The PGA Tour desperately needs Rory in the mix for this coming weekend.

Rory McIlroy has provided a PGA “Tour”niquet at a critical time

Despite landing that $3 billion partnership with US-based Strategic Sports Group a few months ago, the PGA Tour has been hemorrhaging major golf tournament title sponsors for its weekly events at an alarming rate.

With the annual cost of sponsoring a PGA Tour event running upwards of $15 million, these corporate sponsors expect more than just a little goodwill from their massive investments in PGA golf tournaments.  The corporate advertising budgets for major sponsors are under close scrutiny to determine the best bang for their marketing bucks.

With no Tiger Woods around in most events in 2024 and LIV Golf poaching some of the biggest names in golf, television ratings for PGA golf broadcasts have decreased by 10%.  The corporate marketing staffers responsible making those massive annual investments in weekly PGA events are quite aware of that slippage in viewership.

Another major sponsor on the PGA Tour just bit the dust this weekend.  After a 13-year relationship with Wells Fargo Bank, the Charlotte stop on the PGA Tour is now in need of a new title sponsor.

That’s not the only event on the PGA Tour which has been on shaky ground 

In 2023, a 42-year corporate relationship at the Honda Classic in Palm Beach, Florida ended.  Over that time, the Honda Motor Company’s annual PGA Tour stop contributed more than $60 million to local charities with the Jack and Barbara Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation being the largest individual beneficiary.

A lack of top name golfers participating at the Honda Classic began to hurt the event in recent years.  Some PGA players began to skip this event because it has been played at the rather difficult Champion Course at PGA National.  The winning score has rarely been lower than ten under par.

Fortunately, the Honda Classic became known as the Cognizant Classic in 2024.  Cognizant is a multi-national IT and consulting company headquartered in New Jersey.  The company agreed to continue sponsorship of the golf tournament through 2030.

The Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) sponsors two separate PGA events.  The contracts for the long-time event at Harbor Town, South Carolina and for the Canadian Open will both expire at the end of this 2024 golf season.

RBC’s chief marketing director dropped a big hint that the company may walk away from the PGA Tour soon if the top professional golfers (PGA Tour and LIV Golf) don’t find a way to patch things up.

“So, we’re hoping that this rectifies itself soon”, said Mary DePaoli last week. ”We’re hoping that they can bring the sport together in a very healthy way that, again, benefits the players, the sponsors and the fans. If the fans are happy, we’re happy. If the players are happy, we’re happy. But right now, we’re still seeing a little bit of flux there.”

Farmers Insurance recently advised the PGA Tour that the company will stop sponsorship of the PGA event played in San Diego at Torrey Pines after it is played in early 2026.

In 2023, AT&T ended its 9-year partnership with the Dallas-based Byron Nelson PGA event.

The good news for north Texas golf fans is that a South Korean marketing conglomerate named CJ Group inked a new 10-year deal to sponsor the golf tournament starting this year.

Interestingly, the Byron Nelson PGA event was on the verge of signing a corporate sponsorship arrangement with defense contractor Raytheon.  However, that deal fell through once PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan learned that Raytheon had been selling missiles to Saudi Arabia.

Oops!  In case you forgot, the PGA Tour and many of its top golfers acted highly offended that rival LIV Golf was being financed by the Saudi Arabian Investment Fund.

Remember the Shell Houston Open?  Shell ended its 25-year run as the title sponsor a few years ago.  Since then, the H-town PGA stop has been bankrolled by one-time sponsors such as Vivint (a home security systems company), Hewlett Packard, Cadence Bank, and, in 2024, the Texas Children’s Hospital.

There is definitely a trend.

It’s “Rory to the Rescue” for the PGA Tour – at least for another week

The PGA Tour wants its younger winners to become the stars of the future.  However, the 2024 list of winners haven’t moved the TV ratings needle in a positive direction.

Winners in 2024 have included non-household names such as Grayson Murray (Sony Hawaii Open), Matthieu Pavon (Farmers Insurance Open), Jake Knapp (Mexico Open), Austin Eckroat (Cognizant Open), Brice Garnett (Puerto Rico Open), Peter Malnati (Valspar Championship), Stephan Jagar (Texas Children’s Open – Houston), and Taylor Pendrith (CJ Byron Nelson – Dallas).

Yes, Scottie Scheffler has won four events this year (including The Masters) and appears to be running away with “Player of the Year” honors.  Scheffler is expected to return to the golf course this week at the PGA Championship in Louisville after his first child (Bennett) was born on May 8.

Though they will never admit it, CBS Sports may be quietly rooting in their production trailers for the contingent of LIV Golf’s top players to make some noise at this week’s PGA Championship.  Due to current rules regarding qualifications for this tournament, 16 LIV golfers will be part of the field at Valhalla this week.

Let’s face it.  Defending champion Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, and even 54-year old Phil Mickelson are going to attract more interest from the average golf viewer on television than the list of young winners on the 2024 PGA Tour mentioned earlier.

Rory McIlroy holds a lot of power right now

If Rory McIlroy wanted to move to LIV Golf, there is no doubt that he would receive the highest offer yet from the emerging (but highly unprofitable) worldwide golf league.

The PGA Tour needs to tread very carefully right now.  They have everything to lose if Rory should decide to pick up the phone and place a call to LIV Golf’s Greg Norman soon.