Repercussions were inevitable when the PGA Tour made drastic changes to its schedule, and a big consequence dropped Tuesday in Dubai: Rory McIlroy is considering giving up his European Tour membership in 2019.
The Northern Irishman who has played both the PGA Tour and European Tour for all but one year since 2009 said at the DP World Championship that he will concentrate on the PGA Tour because it will help him better prepare for the major championships.
After this week’s season-ending Dubai event on the European Tour, McIlroy said he will play just once over the next three months — the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in January — to better prepare for the coming season.
The PGA Tour schedule has changed in 2019, with the PGA Championship moving to May and the FedEx Cup playoffs concluding in August, just five weeks after The Open.
“Everything is going to be so condensed between March and August, and this is why I am taking a big offseason to get myself ready ,and to have that break and impose an offseason on myself and then go at it hard from March all the way through to basically the end of the season,” McIlroy told reporters in Dubai.
“I’ve got two events on my schedule in Europe. I am starting my year off in the U.S. and that Tour (PGA Tour) will be the big focus of mine up until the end of August and then we will assess from there.”
McIlroy, 29, who is ranked seventh in the world, is disappointed in his play in the major championships of late — even though he contended at the Masters and The Open this year. The last of his four major titles came in 2014 and he’s won just once worldwide in the last two years — at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Unclear is if McIlroy is aware of a new European Tour rule put in place in 2018 that could deny him a future captaincy for Europe in the Ryder Cup. While giving up membership in a non-Ryder Cup year does not impact his playing status, new rules state that giving up membership makes you ineligible to be a captain or vice captain in the future.
That would seemingly be a non-starter for McIlroy, who has played on five European teams (with four team victories) and would be a lock to be a future captain.
But the subject never came up during the news conference, and McIlroy still has plenty of time to add tournaments if the rule is non-negotiable.
And there would be no issue if McIlroy were to stick to his almost-annual plan of playing two events in the Middle East — Abu Dhabi and Dubai — in the early part of the year. But McIlroy is skipping them and is likely not to return to competitive golf until either the Pebble Beach Pro-Am or Genesis Open.
The European Tour requires just four events outside of the majors and World Golf Championship events to meet minimum playing requirements; he is already scheduled for the European Masters in Switzerland and has played the Scottish Open in the past. That would take care of the requirement were he playing the Middle East events.
Still, there is time once the PGA Tour season ends in August if McIlroy so chooses, including the South African event he played last week and this week’s tournament in July.
As a PGA Tour member, McIlroy is required to play 15 tournaments, and aside from the four major championships, he’ll have plenty of choices, especially when the schedule is extremely busy in late February up until the Masters.
If he chooses, McIlroy could play Pebble Beach, Riviera and the WGC-Mexico Championship in consecutive weeks; then after a week off play the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Players Championship; and then the WGC-Match Play Championship two weeks prior to the Masters.
Playing the Wells Fargo Championship two weeks prior to the PGA Championship, the Memorial and U.S. Open and The Open gets him to 11 tournaments. Assuming he qualifies for the three-event FedEx Cup playoffs, McIlroy would need just one more PGA Tour event, and he said earlier this year he was considering adding the Canadian Open to his schedule. There is also the WGC-FedEx Championship the week following The Open.
Regardless of how the PGA Tour schedule plays out, it would be a big blow to the European Tour to lose McIlroy as a member. He would be ineligible for this week’s season-ending event and awards. And aside from The Open at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, would be looking at playing just twice in continental Europe.
“I guess my thing is that I want to play against the strongest fields week-in and week-out and for the most part of the season that is in America,” McIlroy said.