Justin Thomas-Alan Shipnuck controversy: Why former Alabama golf star defended Rory McIlroy

While much of his home country was still asleep, Justin Thomas took to social media Thursday morning to get something off of his chest.

The PGA Tour star and former Alabama golfer responded to an excerpt from an upcoming book by golf writer Alan Shipnuck — “LIV and Let Die: The Inside Story of the War between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf” — in which an unnamed former Ryder Cup teammate was critical of fellow PGA Tour golfer Rory McIlroy. The excerpt began with an inflammatory, “F--- Rory.”

“I’d like to speak on behalf of a lot of Tour players and say we’re sick of @AlanShipnuck doing what he does,” Thomas wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “Bring positivity and good stories to help grow the game of golf, not try and make money bashing guys, earning zero trust, with a lot of incorrect information. Ridiculous.”

Thomas is currently vacationing in Italy, where he competed in the 2023 Ryder Cup at the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club near Rome. Team USA, of which Thomas was a member, lost to Team Europe.

REQUIRED READING: U.S. loses its seventh straight Ryder Cup in Europe

In later tweets, Thomas said he wasn’t asking for golf media to become sanitized and only focus on subjects through a positive lens. He noted it’s “just frustrating when it’s time after time from unnamed sources commenting about guys bashing them. I do get it’s a part of it.”

Here's everything you need to know about Thomas-Shipnuck controversy:

Who is Alan Shipnuck?

Shipnuck is an American sports writer who has spent much of his career covering golf.

A California native, Shipnuck began as a reporter Sports Illustrated in 1996 shortly after graduating from UCLA, making him the youngest staff writer in the famed publication’s history. In his time at SI, he covered dozens of golfs major championships and wrote profiles of Brett Favre and Michael Phelps when they were honored by the magazine as its Sportsman of the Year.

In 2018, Shipnuck joined Golf Magazine, where he later left in 2021 to become a partner and executive editor at The Fire Pit Collective, a new media company covering golf. Shipnuck is the author of nine books, all of them about golf.

He has received 13 first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, breaking a record previously held by legendary sports writer Dan Jenkins.

REQUIRED READING: Watch former Alabama golfer Justin Thomas lead Coleman Coliseum in Ala-Bama chant

What did Alan Shipnuck say?

To be more exact, it’s what someone else, not Shipnuck, said.

The comment that drew the response from Thomas came from an anonymous source who spoke to Shipnuck for his upcoming book, “LIV and Let Die: The Inside Story of the War between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf.” The comment was critical of PGA Tour star Rory McIlroy.

“F--- Rory,” the passage read. “I’m so sick of hearing about how he’s some kind of hero who is saving golf. He’s bought and paid for just like everybody else, it’s just that his money is coming from the other side…That he is being held up as some kind of savior on Twitter and by all the fanboys with their s----- podcasts tells you how little people really understand what’s going on.”

The remarks are in reference to the subject of Shipnuck’s book — the formation of the LIV Golf Tour, which signed several high-profile golfers such as Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau away from the PGA Tour and fractured the larger world of professional golf.

The LIV Tour is financed by the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia that seeks to advance the country’s economy and diversify its business interests. The Saudi Arabian government and crown prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud have been under intense scrutiny internationally for human rights abuses, particularly against women and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

McIlroy had been perhaps the most outspoken critic on the PGA Tour of those who were wooed by lucrative offers to join the LIV Tour. In July, the PGA and LIV tours announced the creation of a new entity that would effectively merge the two together, ending a two-year-long standoff.

REQUIRED READING: PGA Tour-LIV Golf merger explained: What to know about deal that shocked golf world

It’s not the only passage from Shipnuck’s book that has generated attention in recent days.

Shipnuck recounted a scene in which Koepka, a five-time major champion, voiced his anger at PGA Tour loyalists, such as Thomas and Jordan Spieth, as Koepka was under fire for joining the LIV Tour.

“F--- all of those country club kids who talk s--- about me,” Koepka said, according to the book. “You think I give a f--- what they think? You think I care what people say about me? I just had three surgeries, and I’m supposed to turn down $130 million? I grew up with nothing. After signing that contract, the first person I called was my mom. We both cried.”

As Koepka alluded to, Thomas grew up around the game, as his father, Mike, was a longtime head professional at Harmony Landing Country Club in Goshen, Kentucky, a wealthy suburb of Louisville.

Shipnuck’s previous book — a 2022 biography of Mickelson titled “Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Biography of Golf's Most Colorful Superstar” — included a quote from Mickelson in which the golfer made reference to the Saudi leadership that bankrolls the LIV Tour, which Mickelson reportedly made $200 million for joining.

“They’re scary motherf------ to get involved with,” Mickelson said. “We know they killed (Washington Post reporter Jamal) Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”

Months after those comments were publicized, Shipnuck claimed that he was “physically removed” from a Mickelson news conference following the opening round at the LIV Golf London event at the Centurion Golf Club.

Alan Shipnuck, Brooks Koepka respond to Justin Thomas

In the hours after Thomas' early morning post, Shipnuck responded to the critique of his work by noting that Thomas wants "hagiography, not journalism" and that while he writes more positive pieces about golfers and the sport as a whole, "scrutiny and criticism is sometimes warranted."

In a follow-up post, Shipnuck said the divide between the PGA and LIV tours created raw emotions for those involved and that his book merely chronicled that.

Though based on a post Thursday morning from Koepka, it would appear that Thomas is not the only professional golfer who takes exception to Shipnuck's approach.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Why former Alabama golf star Justin Thomas defended Rory McIlroy