BETHESDA, Md. – When Rory McIlroy walked onto the first tee Sunday at the U.S. Open, he briefly acknowledged one golf official and quickly extended his hand to warmly greet two others, USGA executive director Mike Davis and USGA president Jim Hyler.
The first official who got little more than a nod was PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.
That scene was a reminder that while a star was born outside the nation’s capital, McIlroy is only a part-time golfer in America.
McIlroy decided last year not to renew his PGA Tour membership, which required him to play 15 times (including the four majors and three World Golf Championships). He now can play only 10 events a year. The tour amended its policy so The Players Championship would not count against the 10, but McIlroy chose not to play that, either.
There are no hard feelings with the PGA Tour, or with Finchem. The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland simply found himself playing too much golf right about the time the FedEx Cup playoffs got under way in late August, which would be the reason to take up membership in America in the first place.
Still, it leaves the PGA Tour with limited exposure of golf’s new Boy Wonder. And that wouldn’t seem to help as the tour negotiates a new television contract that expires after 2012.
“Rory’s performance in the U.S. Open has generated a lot of interest and a lot of excitement,” PGA Tour spokesman Ty Votaw said Tuesday. “Who knows what the future holds with respect to his membership status.”
There is talk that McIlroy might consider joining the PGA Tour again, although likely not until the 2013 season. Chubby Chandler, his agent at International Sports Management, suggested Sunday evening that McIlroy has “a duty to be over here a little bit more being the Open champion.”
“So I think obviously there’s a good chance that he’ll play a little bit more over here,” Chandler said. “But he won’t play a lot because he can’t do both tours.”
Tour officials likely will bring up its membership policies, as they do just about every year, and decide if anything needs to be changed. One policy that seems to unfairly punish McIlroy is that he is restricted to 10 events (not including The Players) because he gave up his membership, while Martin Kaymer and Alvaro Quiros can play 12 Tour events because they never joined the PGA Tour.
Finchem was an observer in the final group, and after seeing that record-setting performance said it would only help golf.
“Rory’s victory this week creates a lot of interest globally,” Finchem said. “It’s a global game. That’s the way you have to look at it. We’d love to have him play a little bit more, but there’s an integration of tournament and competition t – hat’s what the fans are into. Candidly, it’s in our interest for the European Tour to be very, very strong. So if he’s playing more on the European Tour and we have Paul Casey and Luke Donald playing more over here, that’s a good thing.
“So it’s all good,” he said. “There’s no downside to it.”
LEFTY’S LAMENT: For only the third time since he has been playing all four majors, Phil Mickelson heads to the British Open without having finished in the top 10 in the first two majors of the year.
“I just didn’t play how I had hoped,” Mickelson said after finishing 23 shots out of the lead, his largest gap ever at the U.S. Open. “It just gets me more geared up to look forward to the British. We had some big tournaments – the British and the PGA – coming up, as well as the FedEx Cup. So I’ll have the next two weeks to try and get my game ready and head over to Europe.”
Mickelson’s next start is the Scottish Open, played this year at Castle Stuart.
His win at the Houston Open is looking more like an anomaly, and his performance in the majors has tailed off since he realized he was dealing with a rare form of arthritis last summer.
Mickelson has finished out of the top 10 in four straight majors.
THE BIGGER, THE BETTER: Padraig Harrington thinks the U.S. Open is more fair when it starts out on a big, strong course like Bethpage Black or Torrey Pines and Congressional, giving it room to scale back and still challenge the players.
His concern is the smaller courses, and he only hopes the USGA doesn’t go to extremes to compensate for their lack of length. The first test figures to be Olympic, followed by a return to Merion in 2013.
“The problem has always been when you went to a tricky golf course, all of a sudden you’ve got to find a way to protect it,” he said. “It’s much better off going to a big, strong golf course. I’ve got to say, Augusta before the changes, the pin positions were getting right on top of the slopes. Now that it’s a bigger golf course, the pins are three or four paces from the ridge.”
BRITISH OPEN: Winning the St. Jude Classic did not get Harrison Frazar into the British Open, but it gave him a big step in getting to Royal St. George’s. With two tournaments remaining, Frazar leads a special money list that consists of THE PLAYERS Championship and five PGA Tour events through the AT&T National next week.
The top two make it off that money list.
Not including those already exempt for the British Open, Frazar is at over $1.05 million, and the next person on the list would be Paul Goydos, who is at $646,000 from his third-place finish at The Players Championship. Still very much in the picture are Brandt Jobe ($622,055), and even Kevin Chappell, who is at $411,141 on the strength of his tie for third at the U.S. Open.
DIVOTS: Jason Day has been runner-up in the last two majors. The last time a player was a runner-up in the successive majors without winning was Tiger Woods in the 2007 Masters and U.S. Open. Day also is the only player who has finished in the top 10 at the last three majors. … One similarity between Rory McIlroy’s U.S. Open title at Congressional and Tiger Woods’ win at Pebble Beach – McIlroy was 37 shots ahead of last place, while Woods was 41 shots ahead of last place in 2000. … Charl Schwartzel has shot 66 in the final round of both majors this year. … Because only the majors count this year, The Ryder Cup standings for the American team start with Bo Van Pelt, Kevin Chappell and Robert Garrigus.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Rory McIlroy has shot par or better in 14 of his last 16 rounds in the majors.
FINAL WORD: “They evidently think there is value in advice from an old man.” – Jack Nicklaus, on meeting with Rory McIlroy and other young players in recent years.