MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Rory McIlroy was paying attention to court proceedings Tuesday, when a federal judge in California denied a temporary restraining order to three suspended PGA Tour members who signed with LIV Golf and then wanted to play in the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Talor Gooch, Matt Jones and Hudson Swafford won’t be playing in the FedEx St. Jude Championship, the first leg of the playoffs, when it starts Thursday at TPC Southwind.
“From my vantage point, common sense prevailed, and I thought it was the right decision,” McIlroy said Wednesday. “Now that that has happened, I think it just lets us focus on the important stuff, which is golf. We can all move forward and not have that sideshow going on for the next few weeks, which is nice.”
Justin Thomas, who said he was looking for updates from the hearing on Twitter, also agreed with the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman.
McIlroy and Thomas both said the ongoing dispute between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf became more personal when 11 players, including Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau, filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour in federal court last week.
“It was personal to me from the beginning,” Thomas said. “It’s kind of like I said from the start. Those guys were given an opportunity to go play and just go play. You can have your cake, but you don’t need to eat it, too. And they got their fair share of a large, large amount of cake, and go eat it on your own means. You don’t need to bring it onto our tour.”
McIlroy said he had more respect for players like past major champions Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, who had defected to LIV Golf but didn’t sue the tour or try to come back and play.
“Guys are going to make their own decisions that they feel is best for them, and that’s totally fine,” McIlroy said. “Again, I don’t begrudge anyone for going over to play LIV or taking guaranteed money. If that’s your prerogative and what you want to do, totally fine. I think where the resentment comes from, from the membership of this tour, is the fact that they want to try to get their way back in here with no consequences, and anyone that’s read the PGA Tour handbook or abided by the rules and regulations, that would feel very unfair to them.”
Thomas, who won the PGA Championship at Southern Hills in May and is eighth in the FedEx Cup points standings, said the drama between the circuits has been a distraction.
“It’s unfortunately just taking up the golf world a little bit and taking away from great storylines,” Thomas said. “I think I saw Scottie [Scheffler] came in and did his interview [Tuesday], and I’m sure he got asked about what was going on, and he’s had one of the best seasons of all time.
“I mean, the most money that’s ever been earned and winning the FedEx Cup by a mile, I’m sure there weren’t as many questions about that as there should have been. It’s little things like that to where it takes away from the big picture of what’s going on on the PGA Tour, obviously in the game of golf as a whole that is going on.”
The drama might not be going away anytime soon. While Freeman denied the temporary restraining order, she didn’t rule on the LIV players’ antitrust claims. She scheduled a jury trial in the U.S. District Court in San Jose, California, for September 2023. There will be discovery from both sides and plenty of depositions between now and then.
There also will probably be more PGA Tour members leaving for lucrative signing bonuses and bigger purses on the LIV Golf circuit. Cameron Smith, the No. 2-ranked player in the world who won the Open Championship at St. Andrews last month, is the latest player who has reportedly been linked to the league being financed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
McIlroy knows Tuesday’s verdict was a small victory for the PGA Tour in a much bigger battle.
“It’s like there’s such a long way to go,” McIlroy said. “It’s like you birdied the first hole, but you’ve still got 17 holes to go.”