Golf has historically been viewed as a “Gentleman’s Game” governed by a number of largely unwritten rules intended to make etiquette and respect reign supreme on the course.
That status quo hasn’t dramatically changed since LIV Golf set out to take on the PGA Tour, but the upstart league has injected a virtually unprecedented amount of drama into the sport and helped foster some uncharacteristically heated disputes between parties on both sides.
Rory McIlroy is all too familiar with that reality based on how frequently he’s been drawn into the fray.
The Northern Irishman was on the receiving end of Patrick Reed’s Tee Toss Heard Around the World and wasn’t afraid to throw some shade in the controversial golfer’s direction in the wake of the fairly overblown incident at the Dubai Desert Classic.
However, the bulk of his criticism has been reserved for Greg Norman, who has emerged as his biggest foil since agreeing to serve as the CEO of LIV Golf.
It appears McIlroy is hoping to put his beef with “The Shark” in his rearview mirror thanks to the detrimental impact the time and energy he’s spent pushing back against Norman and LIV has had on his golf game.
However, it’s still worth taking a look at how things escalated to the point where McIlroy felt the need to all but wave the white flag.
How Rory McIlroy and Greg Norman found themselves engaged in one of the most bitter feuds in the history of golf
The origins of the beef can be traced back to what McIlroy had to say when he addressed rumors concerning what the people who brought LIV Golf into existence had initially dubbed the “Premier Golf League.”
He dismissed he had any interest in joining a competing organization, saying, “I would like to be on the right side of history with this one” while referencing Norman’s ill-fated attempt to take on the PGA Tour with the World Golf Tour in the 1990s.
Norman acknowledged he took exception to that barb but claimed he didn’t take it personally while asserting McIlroy was likely just trying to toe the company line and keep the higher-ups on the PGA Tour at his expense.
McIlroy declined to call out Norman by name when he reaffirmed his loyalty to the PGA Tour at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, but he made it clear he believed the rumored organization was trying to find a solution for a problem that didn’t really exist.
Shortly after a report surfaced claiming Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, and Bryson DeChambeau had been contacted by people representing the PGL, McIlroy once again voiced his opposition while revealing he hadn’t been swayed by the reps who’d approached him multiple times about a theoretical defection since he was first contacted back in 2014.
The rumblings about the supposedly imminent rise of what would become LIV Golf had become impossible to ignore by the time McIlroy arrived in Dubai for the DP World Tour Championship, and he said Norman’s involvement had only “hardened” his commitment to the PGA Tour.
Despite their previous differences, McIlroy and Norman were apparently still on pretty solid terms as of the spring of 2022, as the former said he had a cordial exchange with the latter about LIV Golf and other topics when they spoke shortly after ESPN aired a 30 For 30 chronicling the Australian’s infamous collapse at The Masters in 1996.
Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there.
McIlroy has pointed to an interview The Washington Post conducted with Norman as a major tipping point, as he understandably took issue with the assertion he’d been “brainwashed” by the PGA Tour.
As a result, it’s hard to imagine it’s a coincidence he ramped up his offensive shortly after that article was published, as he made sure everyone knew his victory at the RBC Canadian Open (his 21st victory as a pro) allowed him to pass Norman on the list of all-time career wins.
McIlory and Norman largely avoided trading verbal jabs in public for a few months, but the former reignited the feud by implying he’d be open to having conversations with LIV Golf if Norman was removed as CEO and essentially calling him a child by stating “no one’s going to talk unless there’s an adult in the room.”
Norman could’ve picked a number of different golfers to use as an example when he tried to justify the massive contracts LIV has handed out to players, but he opted to specifically target McIlroy in an analogy he deployed during a podcast appearance, saying:
“Rory McIlroy is over in the Middle East right now playing in the Dubai Desert Classic. Do you think he went over there for nothing? No. He got an appearance fee.”
The Shark smelled blood in the water when he essentially declared victory over McIlroy by noting his longtime foe was no longer going after LIV as frequently as he had in the past, and based on what Rory had to say during the press conference I alluded to in the intro, it does seem like Norman ultimately earned the W.
That could certainly change in the future, but at least you have a better idea of how we reached this point in the first place.