AKRON, Ohio – It was a messy split by any measure. Rory McIlroy wanted the CD collection, the PGA Tour didn’t want to give up their half of the gym membership. One of those irreconcilable difference things where nobody is to blame but everything feels wrong.
The Tour tried to make nice, easing a punitive rule that would limit the game’s chosen one to just 10 starts in the United States, but it had a too little, too late feel to it. And when the Ulsterman won the U.S. Open by eight strokes it must have sent Tour types into an ice cream-laden bender. Rory, their Rory, was now atop the world heap if not in the World Ranking then in the collective consensus.
The European Tour, long considered the Little Sisters of the Poor to the PGA Tour’s Big State University, was officially the top dog. What’s wrong with American golf, pundits asked? The answer: the European Tour.
The transatlantic power shift was complete, Europe was a 4-and-3 winner.
But then months of drought in the south of England was shattered by a series of bone-chilling storms and Royal St. Wind Tunnel took it to the world’s best. Among the high-profile victims was Rory McIlroy. He may be a proud Ulsterman by birth but his game is more Northeastern than Northern Ireland.
Holywood Golf Club, the blue-collar layout perched high on a hill overlooking Belfast Lough, is, by any definition, a parkland (read American) style course and the native son understandably developed an American-style, high-flying power game.
It was a game that was pushed to the limits at Royal St. George’s by winds that gusted to 30 mph and rain that seemed to fall sideways. When McIlroy walked off property on Sunday he was honest and to the point.
“My game is suited for basically every golf course and most conditions, but these conditions I just don't enjoy playing in really,” he said following rounds of 71-69-74-73 and a tie for 25th. “That's the bottom line. I'd rather play when it's 80 degrees and sunny and not much wind.”
Although many back home in the United Kingdom took exception to McIlroy’s take on links golf, few on the other side of the pond took much notice. Even when McIlroy tweeted on Monday that this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational is among his favorite events, few in Ponte Vedra Beach made a note of it. Breakups will do that; make you hard and blind to even the slightest hint of reconciliation.
But then on Wednesday morning at Firestone, McIlroy approached the Tour’s executive vice president and chief of operations Andy Pazder and senior vice president of player relations Ross Berlin about the possibility of a reunion. A few hours later he informed a group of stunned scribes that, “I’m leaning towards taking my card up again. I feel as if I play my best golf over here. I’m very comfortable in this country.”
Not much could wrench the media out of the Tiger Woods-induced coma, but McIlroy did it.
The Tour was guarded, as any jilted partner would be. Or, as Pazder stressed, “We’re cautiously optimistic.”
When asked why he’d had such a dramatic change of heart, McIlroy was clear, “The weather (at Royal St. George’s),” although some have speculated that his recent split with his long-time girlfriend also had something to do with the decision.
According to McIlroy’s congenial manager Chubby Chandler he will meet with McIlroy and his father, Gerry, on Monday in Atlanta to go over possible schedules. The truth is McIlroy will only need five more U.S. starts than he had this year (10) to keep his membership.
“I feel his schedule will be the same to this year over the first three months,” Chandler told GolfChannel.com. “He would likely add events toward the end (of the year).”
Specifically add the Tour’s four-event playoff series, which was, ironically, the reason McIlroy gave up his membership after the 2010 season and why, according to Tour regulations, he could not renew his membership this year even after his convincing victory at Congressional.
“You only got a week off after the PGA and then straight back into four weeks out of five that were pretty tough,” McIlroy said. “It’s hard to keep it going for that length of time. But yeah, it’s something that you just have to accept.”
McIlroy plans to look for a U.S. base after next week’s PGA Championship; Chandler said it will likely be in West Palm Beach, Fla. If he asks nicely, the Tour may be willing to co-sign a loan for his new digs if need be.
Although the Tour took the high road when McIlroy took his talents back to Europe, not having the game’s best up-and-coming player was a hole in the resume, particularly on the eve of a new round of television contract talks.
“Rory is an immense talent. For a person to win an Open by eight shots he captivates fans in the U.S. and around the world,” Pazder said. “For some reason I thought at some point Rory would take up has membership again.”
But then the jilted are always optimistic, no matter how unsavory a split might be.