The world No. 1, who is making his PGA Tour season debut at the Honda Classic, announced earlier this year that instead of using one of the two Texas-based events as a tuneup for the Masters, he instead will make his first appearance in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
While the field at Bay Hill typically boasts big names such as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, McIlroy has been conspicuously absent. Speaking Wednesday at PGA National, the Ulsterman outlined his reasons for adding the event to his schedule – primarily the tournament’s 85-year-old host.
“Priorities have changed, and it’s a big event,” McIlroy said. “What Arnold Palmer has done for our game, and what he’s done for the PGA Tour, it was about time that I showed up there and played in his tournament.”
McIlroy added that while he grew up idolizing fellow European Seve Ballesteros, he has great respect for the impact Palmer had on growing the professional game.
“We wouldn’t play in front of as many people or in front of as many TV cameras, or play for as much,” he said. “Especially getting golf as a product out there, it all happened in the '50s and '60s. Arnold, Mark McCormack, all that sort of started happening around then.
“If it wasn’t for that, who knows where our game would be? So I think we owe a lot to Arnold for that.”