Not Business Just Personal


LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – It is a war in words only – a row complicated by time and assumptions, which is the worst kind of quarrel.

On Monday, Rory McIlroy said he was done with the PGA Tour after a 12-month experiment. He said that after the PGA Championship neither his heart nor head was in the game. That home and harp, not history and heritage, was what’s important right now.

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy, who won the 2010 Quail Hollow event, said he will not take up PGA Tour membership next season. (Getty Images)
It is a curious case of jingoistic nonsense then that McIlroy’s decision was viewed in some American quarters as a slight to the U.S. circuit. Somehow McIlroy’s decision, and Lee Westwood's before him, is being played on these shores as an indictment of a PGA Tour on the ropes.

To twist the words of Tom Hagen of “Godfather” fame it’s not business, it’s all personal for McIlroy and Westwood.

Make no mistake, the Tour needs young Rory more than he needs the Tour at this point in time. But that’s far too politically corrupt for McIlroy.

McIlroy is packing up his ProV1 and going home because the PGA Tour can be a lonely place, particularly for a 21-year-old who grew up in Holywood, Northern Ireland, pop. 12,037.

He’s headed home because he misses his girlfriend and his dog and, a crucial point that is far too often dismissed, he can.

McIlroy will get 10 Tour starts as a non-member in 2011, two fewer than other non-members because of his decision to shed his membership. One tournament director took the news much harder than McIlroy likely did on Tuesday considering that his starts will be limited to the four majors, three World Golf Championships, the Quail Hollow Championship (where he is the defending champion), The Players Championship and just one other.

Yet as much as some want to make this an “us against them” issue, it is no more than a quality of life decision.

Greg Owen should know. He was born and raised in Nottinghamshire, England, not far from where Westwood calls home and he knows how easy it can be to trade the bright lights of the U.S. Tour for the solace of the European circuit.

“It’s what you perceive to be important,” Owen said. “Was (Colin Montgomerie) wrong? I don’t think there’s a wrong way to do it.”

Owen – who joined the PGA Tour in 2005 and has never looked back – tried to split time between the two circuits in ’05 with pedestrian results. He was bounced out of the Open Championship that year because of a technicality and narrowly missed making it into the Masters because of world ranking math.

He can also attest to McIlroy’s point that the PGA Tour can be a lonely place when the putts aren’t falling.

“I played terrible this year and it’s a terrible place to be if you don’t have any family out here,” Owen said. “Everybody is so focused on what they are doing. It’s completely understandable, but very lonely.”

From a logistic point of view, McIlroy’s aversion to playing both circuits because of the scheduling demands rings a tad dubious. Although the minimum number of starts on each tour add up to 28 events (13 in Europe and 15 in America), co-sanctioned crossover between the majors and WGCs add up to just 20 events. Hardly Cal Ripken Jr. stuff.

There is also the notion that had Montgomerie played more in the United States during his prime he would have somehow been better prepared to win one of those heartbreaking majors that eluded him.

“OK,” Owen concedes, “but if you were to tell (Westwood) he’d win a major if he stays in the States I’m guessing he probably would. But you can’t guarantee that.”

Besides, both McIlroy and Westwood have already gotten off the PGA Tour schneid and are making regular cameos on Grand Slam leaderboards with ready-for-primetime games. What could be gained from an extra five starts on U.S. soil?

But then McIlroy and Westwood’s decision isn’t about starts or status. The global economy has somewhat leveled the purse gap between the PGA Tour and the European circuit and Westwood’s climb to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking has proven it’s no longer necessary to play both to establish a legacy – at least not in the eyes of the world golf ranking.

For years the world critiqued the top American players for their insular ways, but ultimately the independent contractors stayed home because they could. Now Europe’s best and brightest are staying home, not because they have an axe to grind or because there is something wrong with the PGA Tour. No, they are staying at home because they can.