McIlroy says the Norman rift started with his “brainwashing” remark

Rory McIlroy thought his differences with Greg Norman over a rival golf league funded by Saudi Arabia were settled. That changed when Norman accused him of being “brainwashed” by the mainstream golfers.

“I thought, you know what? I’m going to make it my business now to make him as difficult as possible,” McIlroy said in a lengthy interview in Ireland’s Sunday Independent.

The interview with writer Paul Kimmage is the second of three parts. McIlroy also describes how his relationship with his old friend Sergio Garcia deteriorated.

McIlroy has been shooting at Norman since winning the Canadian Open in June, a day after LIV Golf finished its inaugural event outside London. He went out of his way to point out that his 21st career PGA Tour win was “one more than anyone else.”

“That gave me an extra boost today,” said McIlroy.

The reference was to Norman, who has 20 career PGA Tour wins and is now CEO and Commissioner of LIV Golf.

Given the chance to return to world No. 1 at the CJ Cup in October, McIlroy was asked if he had a target of how many weeks he would like to be No. 1 by the end of his career. He mentioned 332, which is one more than Norman.

Most recently in Dubai last month, McIlroy said golf’s fractured state between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf may not heal until Norman is out of the picture.

“I think Greg should go. I think he should just leave the stage to the left,” McIlroy said, adding that no one would be willing to talk “unless there’s an adult in the room.”

McIlroy said the rift began in February 2020 when talk of a “Premier Golf League” backed by Saudi money was first discussed. McIlroy was the first top player to say he was not interested, adding that he wanted to be on the right side of history.

He was referring to a moment when Arnold Palmer was standing up for the PGA Tour against Norman’s proposed World Golf Tour in 1994. Palmer’s words quickly ended it.

“He (Norman) wasn’t happy, and we had a pretty hot-tempered back-and-forth and he was very condescending. “Maybe one day you’ll understand ‘and all this (things),'” McIlroy said in the Independent interview.

Then in April of this year, McIlroy watched an ESPN documentary about Norman’s collapse to lose the 1996 Masters and was moved enough to send Norman a message saying, “Hopefully it reminds everyone of what a great golfer you were.”

McIlroy said Norman sent him a touching note after McIlroy lost a four-shot lead in the final round of the 2011 Masters.

“He was great,” said McIlroy. “So I said to him, ‘Looking at it reminded me of how you contacted me in 2011, and I just want to say that I will always appreciate it. It meant a lot. I know our view of the game of golf is very different at the moment, but I just wanted to let you know and wish you all the best.’

“So a bit of an olive branch, and he came right back, ‘I really think golf can have a positive impact anywhere in the world. … I know our opinions don’t align, but I’m just trying to create more opportunities for every golfer around the world.”

“Fine. Really nice,” McIlroy said. “A few weeks later, he gives an interview with The Washington Post and says I’ve been ‘brainwashed by the PGA Tour.’

“We had this really nice back and forth and he says that about me.”

McIlroy added in the interview that the PGA Tour is lucky to have Norman involved with LIV, because “I think if they found someone who was less polarizing, LIV could have taken on more.”

McIlroy said his two golf idols were Woods and Garcia, describing the Spaniard as an exciting young player. They were at each other’s weddings; McIlroy was a groomsman for Garcia.

McIlroy said he was unaware Garcia was joining LIV Golf until the Spaniard told him on the range at the Wells Fargo Championship that he had a new plane and offered McIlroy a ride to the first LIV event near London.

The relationship soured at the US Open the week after McIlroy won in Canada. McIlroy had said in his interview that players who joined LIV Golf during the week took the easy way out.

He said he woke up Friday from the US Open to a text from Garcia “basically telling me to shut up about LIV, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”

“I was pretty offended and sent him back some daggers and that was it,” said McIlroy.

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