It was 9.36am when Rory McIlroy, running a few minutes behind, scurried into a packed media centre at TPC Sawgrass looking like he had been six rounds with a heavyweight champion.
As it was, the 2019 Players champion, had just emerged from a two-hour meeting fellow PGA Tour members. There was clearly plenty to talk about. Some have made it very clear they are not happy with the changes to the schedule from 2024, which will see a number of elevated-purse, no-cut events, but McIlroy insisted the “temperature in the room nowhere near as hot as I anticipated”.
McIlroy was keeping specific details about the meeting close to his chest, though he did reveal that “when more information and data was presented, the people that had reservations it came around”.
But the Northern Irishman was keen to expand on any concerns with player and public perception.
He explained how the changes came about “so that there’s enough jeopardy built into the system”, before doubling down on the PGA Tour line about no-cut events: “There’s always been no-cut events. Tiger Woods won 26 no-cut events in his career. Jack Nicklaus won 20. Arnold Palmer won 17.”
LIV Golf’s most outspoken stars puffed out their chests after the PGA Tour announcement, but McIlroy is done fighting. Instead, he’s looking at the positives, and even went as far as to attribute Greg Norman’s breakaway league for its impact.
“I’m not going to sit here and lie,” McIlroy said. “The emergence of LIV – or the emergence of a competitor to the PGA Tour – has benefited everyone that plays elite professional golf.
“When you’ve been the biggest golf league in the biggest market in the world for the last 60 years, there’s not a lot of incentive to innovate.
“This has caused a ton of innovation at the PGA Tour, and what was quite an antiquated system is being revamped to try to mirror where we’re at in the world in the 21st century with the media landscape.
“The PGA Tour isn’t just competing with LIV Golf or other sports. It’s competing with Instagram, and TikTok, and everything else that’s trying to take eyeballs away from the PGA Tour as a product.
“So LIV coming along has definitely had a massive impact on the game, but I think everyone who’s a professional golfer is going to benefit from it going forward.”
As for McIlroy and his own schedule, he won’t be sticking to just the elevated events.
“One of the things you’re going to hear a little bit later on is ‘schedule cadence’. That’s going to be a pretty key term in all this.
“The way the schedule is laid out next year, you’re going to have two designated, maybe three full-field, two designated, and I don’t particularly want to take three weeks off in between big events, so I’m going to play at least one of those three to try to keep my game sharp.
“It’s trying to create the best schedule that guarantees that the top players play in the big events, but also that it can guarantee the participation in a handful of the full-field events as well. There’s a pretty good balance to it.”
Time will tell whether or not the McIlroy-led new world will be a success, or whether or not the doubters will, indeed, come on board, but for now it’s about joining the handful of players to have won this title more than once.
“I feel like over the past 12 months I’ve played pretty well,” he said. “But at the same time, I’ve had all of this other stuff to deal with.
“When I went on the board of the PGA Tour, I didn’t imagine it would take up this much time. But it’s been important work, and I’m proud of the steps that we have made to try to make everything better for the membership and try to stem the flow of players that went to LIV.
“But with these new changes announced, hopefully the majority of my time will be spent concentrating on getting ready for golf tournaments and trying to be the best player that I can be. It might give me a bit more free time to do other things that I enjoy, as well.”
For McIlroy, who has won nine times on the PGA and DP World Tours in the last 20 months, it’s time for another European champion at PGA Tour HQ.
Sandy Lyle broke the duck here in 1987, and was followed by Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Martin Kaymer, and McIlroy.
“All the top Europeans live here,” he exlained. “They play on this Tour. You could maybe have made that argument 20 years ago, but the way the professional golf landscape is, we all base ourselves in this country and specifically in this area in Florida at this time of the year, so I don’t think there’s any excuses.”
Challenge, as they say, extended.
Could the golf ball be rolled back for everyone?