"Certainly not a position that I'd like to be in" - Rory McIlroy on Greg Norman controversy
"We all do make mistakes."
Rory McIlroy has spoken out strongly on the potential breakaway tournament, known as LIV Golf, but he softened his tone before the latest golfing major of 2022.
The US PGA will get underway at Southern Hills, on Thursday, but it is taking place under a cloud due to recent comments from Greg Norman and defending champion Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson has opted not to defend the title that he won last year, at the age of 50, and has not played a PGA tournament since his comments to biographer Alan Shipnuck, on the pros and cons of making a deal with the Saudi Arabian-backed LIV Golf, were published.
The American issued an apology through his social media accounts and took a step back from playing big events, but he may yet hitch his wagon to LIV Golf. Were he to do so, it may see him excluded from future PGA Tour events and irreparably damage his chances of, one day, becoming USA Ryder Cup captain.
With Mickelson out of frame, for now, LIV Golf chief executive Greg Norman stepped forward to try ease a path for the world's best golfers to jump back and forth from the PGA Tour to the shiny, new entity. Going on a whistle-stop media tour, the Australian only managed to make matters worse.
Greg Norman shanks one about LIV Golf backers
One Greg Norman comment, made last week, got a lot of traction for the sheer lack of compassion, understanding and common sense. Asked about the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey, in 2018, Norman commented:
"Look, we’ve all made mistakes and you just want to learn by those mistakes and how you can correct them going forward."
Like Mickelson, we may not see Norman in front of the cameras and microphones for a while.
Over at Southern Hills Country Club, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Rory McIlroy was not the only major-hunting golfer at the US PGA to be asked about Norman and Mickelson.
In the recent past, McIlroy has come out with stronger rhetoric about LIV Golf, and the two golfing legends. Earlier this year, McIlroy slammed Mickelson's messy dealings with, and comments about, LIV Golf as "naïve, selfish, egotistical, ignorant".
When Mickelson took a huge amount of heat for an interview that he felt was off-the-record, but was not, the likes of Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson quickly stepped forward to say they would not be joining the breakaway 'Golf Super League'. That lead to McIlroy saying LIV Golf was "dead in the water".
That does not appear to be the case, though, and veteran golfers like Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter appear to be open to the prospect of playing this lucrative, non-PGA-sanctioned events. Asked about LIV Golf not being as toast as many may have reckoned, Rory McIlroy had a softer tone, this week.
Rory McIlroy on Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson
First up, in his pre-tournament chat with the golfing media, Rory McIlroy was asked out defending champion Phil Mickelson not teeing up at Southern Hills.
"Unfortunate. Sad. This should be a celebration, right? He won a major championship at 50 years old. It was possibly his last big, big moment in the game of golf.
"He should be... I think he should be here this week and celebrating what a monumental achievement he achieved last year. It's unfortunate. It's sad. Yeah, I don't know what else I can say."
A reporter then asked McIlroy about Greg Norman and his unfortunate 'we all make mistakes' comment. The four-time major winner reflected:
"We do all make mistakes. I think Greg is in a very tough position because he's taken the role of being the leader of something that is very divisive. Greg can sit with the media for five hours and give four hours and 50 minutes of pretty good answers, and the 10 minutes that he maybe drops his guard is what's going to be picked up on.
"I just think he's in a no-win situation. He's made that decision himself, and he has to deal with the questions that are being thrown at him. It's certainly not a position that I'd like to be in."
Of course, there is a golf major fast approaching, and McIlroy will be eager to pick up where he left off, at The Masters, after his thrilling 63 that included a chip-in from the 18th bunker at Augusta National.
McIlroy looked free and easy, and was flag-hunting, in that Masters final round, which saw him finish second, and reports from the course suggest he could start hot at Southern Hills.
On the No Laying Up podcast, co-host 'Tron Carter' revealed he had received a text from Sky Sports golf correspondent that McIlroy, in his first practice round, was 'Six under through six holes on the front nine'.
As for the man himself, McIlroy declared, "I feel good about my game...You hit greens here, you're going to give yourself birdie chances. The targets are pretty small, pretty limited with where the hole locations will be, so you hit it into the middle of the greens here, you're going to have decent chances."
As if that was not enticing enough for the Rory McIlroy Believers, he repeated the line for good measure - "I'm feeling pretty good about that part of the game."
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You can stream the weekend's coverage from Southern Hills Country Club in Oklahoma with a NOW Sports Membership. The coverage on Thursday begins at 1 pm Irish time.