Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed and teegate is just the start of golf’s drama in 2023

Get your popcorn ready: Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed have lit the fuse for what promises to be an explosive year in golf.

It appears naive of Reed to even approach McIlroy, given that his lawyers served the Northern Irishman a court summons on Christmas Eve.

Reed’s gesture, to toss a tee in McIlroy’s direction after being snubbed by the world No 1, might be innocuous to some. Yet there may have been a more sinister side to Reed’s move, given the tee was embroidered with his LIV Team Aces logo.

McIlroy denies noticing a tee at all, but disrupting his preparation and reminding him of the biggest threat to the tour he represents would undoubtedly prove irksome.

But while Reed joked about the severity of his actions, labelling McIlroy “an immature little child,” his churlish response illustrates the difficulty in finding common ground between LIV and the PGA Tour.

Reed, who has a lifetime exemption to the Masters as a former champion, evidently fails to understand the severity of the situation, which has both damaged the sport and inspired much-needed and belated change.

The Dubai Desert Classic, as a DP World Tour event, offers LIV Golf players, who are banished from the PGA Tour, a temporary opportunity to harvest Official World Golf Rankings points. Reed and co. are not silly and know these points are more precious than ever given the expected neutrality of the sport’s major tournaments in this bitter civil war. Perform well enough this week and LIV players can tread water a little longer in the rankings while the rebel tour pursues a way to legitimise their events with the OWGR.

So it will be fascinating to observe if any psychological edge spills over onto the Majlis course at the Emirates Golf Club.

As Reed chuckled to himself after retreating to his place on the range, McIlroy could be seen kneeling down fixated on his Trackman device during practice. That steely focus, separate from this pantomime story that finally provides intrigue to the casual fan away from Tiger Woods, could be crucial for his success on the course.

Jon Rahm, who might be McIlroy’s biggest threat this year, is attempting a rare PGA Tour hat-trick at Torrey Pines this week at the Farmers Insurance Open and could displace the Northern Irishman atop the world rankings.

The hope is this will be one of the few occasions players such as McIlroy and Rahm play on opposing corners of the planet. At least that appears to be the antidote to LIV after a series of secret meetings among PGA Tour players last year.

Reed and McIlroy are at the centre of golf’s latest storm (Getty Images)
Reed and McIlroy are at the centre of golf’s latest storm (Getty Images)

But away from that purer narrative, there is no sign of the acrimony from the inaugural LIV Golf season fading away.

This most antiquated of sports promises to be more absorbing than ever and is dangerously close to embracing a new fanbase.

Netflix is ready to add extra juice with the docuseries Full Swing debuting on 15 February.

And the notorious Greg Norman, despite pleas from Woods and McIlroy, remains an integral, yet divisive part of LIV Golf’s quest to seize control of the sport.

But beneath the suspensions, exemptions and lawsuits of this ugly chapter, shots will be traded on the course from Augusta all the way to Rome and the Ryder Cup.

Attempts from LIV players to remain eligible for golf’s biggest team event appear futile at this stage, but there are a lot of tournaments between now and Marco Simeone.

Rahm, friends with compatriot Sergio Garcia, the most prolific player in the Ryder Cup’s history, is keen for a compromise. Perhaps sensing the behemoth that is Team USA and how Europe could gain an edge with a truce.

The timeline for this messy saga should extend well beyond 2023, as despite legal proceedings between the DP World Tour and 13 LIV players, set for 6-10 February in London, the anti-trust case involving the PGA Tour is still 12 months away.

So while McIlroy may consider it to be “a storm in a teacup”, their brief, yet frosty interaction perfectly frames an unmissable year ahead.