“My dad said to me a long time ago: ‘Once you make your bed, you lie in it.’” This was the piece of homespun philosophy with which Rory McIlroy castigated the LIV rebels last year. Their defection was, in his eyes, an act with deservedly profound consequences, not least an inability to represent Europe at the Ryder Cup.
He was widely feted for speaking out, portrayed as a lone voice of decency in a sport drowning in money and materialism.
But it turns out that McIlroy’s view comes with a caveat. Just weeks after goading Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter et al for their absence in Rome, claiming that “they’re missing being here more than we’re missing them”, he is instructing the DP World Tour to make an honourable exception of Jon Rahm. “They’re going to have to rewrite the rules,” he insists.
And the justification? That Rahm is his friend and rather a good golfer to boot, and Europe cannot hope to win at Bethpage in 2025 without him.
McIlroy’s new-found emollience is, much like Rahm’s £450 million pay cheque, difficult to stomach. He has spent 18 months positioning himself as the anti-LIV idealist, the defender of heritage and tradition, and now he is prepared to park all these principles just so that he can keep Rahm as a team-mate?
It is a weak, self-serving argument. We know by now that elite golfers struggle to look any further than themselves. But they need to start appreciating that the tours’ intransigence on Ryder Cup eligibility is, on the European side at least, about far more than individuals.
It is the one line in the sand they can draw, the one stand they can make against the obscenity of what is happening. Players such as Rahm imagine that they can have it all, that they are within their rights to abandon their tour loyalties for wheelbarrows of Saudi cash without the slightest loss of privilege.
It is up to Keith Pelley, chief executive of the DP World Tour, to remind them that the realities of professional golf do not work this way. “We have a responsibility to our full membership to do this,” he said this year, after an arbitration panel resolved that the Ryder Cup ban was both fair and reasonable.
With this in mind, McIlroy’s demand that the tour switches course to accommodate Rahm is misguided, even arrogant. There cannot be separate rules for Rahm and Garcia just because McIlroy decides that one is indispensable and the other surplus to requirements.
The Tour has a duty to protect the integrity of its most important event, not to indulge the whims of a superstar. It is refreshing to hear that it will hold firm while it waits for talks over a complex merger with LIV to unfold. But such is McIlroy’s extraordinary power, you wonder how long this stance is sustainable.
The ugliest element in all this is not the preposterous money involved, but the fact that the best players imagine that they can take the public for fools. Rahm is the prime culprit, having marked his switch to LIV with an interview of grotesque insincerity. What, David Feherty asked, was his primary motive for making the move. “The innovation,” he replied, somehow with a straight face.
The answer would have been amusing, were it not so ludicrous. This is a man who had told the world that he scorned the LIV format, that a 54-hole, no-cut tournament with a shotgun start was not proper golf. And now he expected everyone to believe it was this, and not the generational wealth, that turned his head?
Does he think that the people who follow him have collective amnesia, that he can make wildly contradictory statements without anyone daring to correct him? It would appear so. Rahm looked visibly uncomfortable on Fox News when his past remarks were raised, resenting any deviation from the PR script.
This is one of the many great pities of an outstanding player allowing his every utterance to be controlled by Saudi Arabia. Rahm, when the mood takes him, can be a spiky, candid, mischievous interviewee. But now, under the LIV banner, we can expect him to talk in the disingenuous platitudes of a shill.
A snap response to any criticism of Rahm is that many others in his shoes would have taken the money, too. Quite so. But what sticks in the craw is these players’ rank inauthenticity in rationalising their actions. Why can Rahm, showing off his LIV bomber jacket, not acknowledge that he did this for money? Why does our intelligence have to be insulted by him spinning some folksy yarn about his love of team golf and his childhood supporting Athletic Bilbao?
It is bleak, this impression that the top players recognise the price of everything and the value of nothing. And the malaise stretches far beyond LIV.
On the PGA Tour, the most significant player on the policy board is Patrick Cantlay, a man of such selflessness that he reportedly refused to wear a cap at the Ryder Cup in protest at not being paid.
Such is the Saudi effect, where the entitlement of many players is so off-the-scale that you cannot help but wish a plague on all their houses.