Ian Poulter
Ian Poulter reveals all to Gulf News ahead of LIV Golf Jeddah Image Credit: Thomas Wragg/Gulf News

In part one of a wide-ranging interview with Gulf News ahead of LIV Golf Jeddah, Ryder Cup star Ian Poulter reveals why he feels bad for Rory McIlroy over his LIV Golf U-turn and how critics of the breakaway circuit weren’t careful with their words.

The Englishman was among the first wave of players to sign up for the breakaway circuit, with Poulter, Lee Westwood, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia and Louis Oosthuizen among those announced ahead of LIV Golf’s first event in June 2022.

Despite his status as a Ryder Cup legend, Poulter, like the other high-profile players, faced plenty of scrutiny and mockery for his decision to join the rival tour, which is funded by Saudi’s Public Investment Fund (PIF).

But last month, Poulter hit out at “two faced” critics who have changed their opinion and warmed to the LIV Golf League, as conversations to unite the sport continue following last year’s shock announcement that PIF, the DP World and PGA Tour were to form "a new collectively owned" entity.

Sergio Garcia and Ryder Cup teammate Ian Poulter
Poulter and Sergio Garcia were Ryder Cup regulars before joining LIV Golf Image Credit: AP

Talks remain ongoing despite an initial deadline of December 31, 2023.

“They probably finally realised that we're not going away,” said Poulter when I asked him about why people’s perceptions of the league have changed.

“I think for a long time they assumed we were just going to go away because the media was portraying that.

“The early news from a certain side after the merger agreement in June was announced was that somebody said he would take his own opinion and shut LIV Golf down – we all knew that wasn’t true and it’s taken a long time for people to actually really understand that.”

While Poulter didn’t mention him by name, his comments about shutting LIV Golf down were likely in relation to PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, who was said to be hoping to 'shut down' their rivals off the back of the announcement of a potential merger.

“His Excellency (Yasir Al Rumayyan, Governor of PIF) believes in the product we have and the team aspect of this level of golf is good for the fan - it’s only going to continue to grow,” added Poulter.

“We’ve added another team with Jon Rahm heading up Legion XIII, which is an amazing addition.

“I think people just thought it was a flash in the pan. It was going to be here for a couple of years and just disappear – that’s not the case. The investment is there, contracts are in place through 2030 which shows you were this product is going.

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Rahm joined the breakaway league in December last year Image Credit: AP

“I read the criticism just as much as anyone else reads the criticism, but it's all coming from one side of the fence, right?

“People don't want to listen. They’re blind and deaf to it, they just don’t want to take it on board. They don't want to believe that there is something else out there that is going to challenge the old stuffy brigade.

“Businesses change. If you if you're sleeping in business, someone’s going to pass you by. You can't expect to keep the same business model forever and expect it to always improve. It was always going to be a disruptive change within a sport.

“A lot of people don't like change, that's why it's had a lot of criticism. It’s had a lot of player criticism from certain players. They've probably realised they've said a lot of things that maybe perhaps they shouldn't have said, but look, that's okay.

“We all make mistakes; I’ve made plenty of mistakes. If you're prepared to own your mistake and somehow move past it, then hopefully we can collectively make a better product.”

Sympathy for McIlroy

One of the biggest critics of the league has been four-time Major champion Rory McIlroy, who once said he would rather retire than play in it “if it was the last place to play golf on earth”.

However, he has recently moderated his approach, particularly following the departure of his friend and fellow Ryder Cup star, Jon Rahm, who joined the league for a reported $450m last year.

McIlroy expressed regret at being "too judgemental" and conceded he had made a "mistake" on his initial views, with the Northern Irishman often used as the PGA Tour’s mouthpiece in the fight against LIV Golf, before they performed their own dramatic U-turn in announcing the framework agreement last June.

“I feel bad for Rory,” said Poulter, who confirmed last month that his comments regarding the “two faced” critics were not about McIlroy.

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McIlroy has softened his stance on LIV Golf in recent months Image Credit: Reuters

“His beliefs and the information that he was given that led him to make those comments was obviously potentially slightly misleading, right?

“Therefore, he's in an awkward position because, now all of a sudden, it doesn’t look as good as it was. But listen, I don’t need to single Rory out, everyone knows who everyone is that has said certain things. I don't need to individually call anyone out in this business as everyone knows.

“When you’re going to speak out against something yet demand a certain amount of money to move across and then you didn’t, but bash the product, you better be careful.”

Again, while Poulter didn’t mention any names, he was likely referring to Billy Horschel in that last paragraph, with the Englishman previously accusing the American of requesting $45 million to join LIV Golf.

LIV Golf Jeddah gets underway on March 1, with the likes of Jon Rahm, Lee Westwood, Bubba Watson and Anthony Kim, who is making a first professional start in 12 years, competing at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club.

The second part of Poulter’s interview will be published later this week, with the Englishman revealing his thoughts on his Ryder Cup future and why he is sick of the World Tour rumours.