Do PGA Tour players really want an offseason? Yes…and no
OLYMPIA FIELDS, Illinois — A month ago, we were in Scotland. The wind was up. The sun didn’t hurt quite like it does here in middle America. It was another time. There was still a major championship on offer, but Rory McIlroy was giving clues to what might follow.
The British press were curious about when they’d see Rors the rest of the year. There was the Open the following week, and then the Ryder Cup in Rome. After that comes the Dunhill Links, a pro-am McIlroy has long played in alongside his father, located in Fife on some of the purest golfing land in the world. The (quiet) breaking news: the McIlroys won’t be playing this year.
“Dad not want to?” McIlroy was asked.
“No, Dad wants to,” McIlroy said. “His son doesn’t want to.”
Okay, then! Rory isn’t up for it this year. It’s been a long year, and the Dunhill is an easier skip than most. But a much stronger sign of things to come arrived a week ago, when McIlroy laid out his remaining schedule.
He’ll play a couple events in Europe before the Ryder Cup, take six weeks off after Rome, compete at the DP World Tour Championship in November, and then not again until Dubai again in mid-January. That’s no fall events on the PGA Tour. No afternoon golf in the States. Just coffee golf, on the telly in the morning, a few times in the next five months. Enjoy him while you’ve got him, golf fans. This is a real break. A real offseason.
McIlroy arrived at this week’s BMW Championship in Chicago not on Monday, nor on Tuesday morning, but Tuesday afternoon for some very casual practice. A lot of Tour pros took their time arriving this week, in part because their 2024 schedule is mostly set. The top 50 players in this year’s FedEx Cup are here and all of them will play in basically every event they want to next season. For them, there isn’t much to play for this fall except money, world ranking points and those shiny trophies they hand out each week.
“After the Open, it kinda hit me,” Tommy Fleetwood said Wednesday. “I don’t really need to play the PGA Tour again until January.”
Thanks to the newest PGA Tour schedule, the formation of signature events and a January through August calendar, Fleetwood is right. He’s locked in for next year. He’ll make a bunch of money playing this week and next, but after that his next PGA Tour start will likely be in Hawaii 20 weeks from now.
But does he want an offseason? Not necessarily. “Thinking about the golf I’d play after six weeks off…” Fleetwood said, implying it would be rusty. He remembers the break he was forced to take in 2020 during the height of Covid lockdowns and how it spiraled his game for a bit. He’ll play on the DP World Tour in September, bop down to defend a title in South Africa and compete with McIlroy in Dubai, where he lives.
“I think Rory and Jon [Rahm] might be different,” Fleetwood continued. “They can take time off, come back and get into it after a few weeks and still win a major.”
He might be right about that, too. McIlroy has favored taking a break in recent years and starting fresh in the new year. But whatever schedule he’s played hasn’t added up to a major. As for Rahm, the world No. 3 won the DP World Tour Championship in November, played in the Hero World Challenge in December, then showed up to Hawaii in January and won. He cruised through Southern California, winning two out of three times. Now at the end of a year where he’s piled up four victories, even competed twice during the week after a major championship, he seems to want an offseason as much as anyone.
“I’ve been comfortable the last few years playing around 22, 23 events, but I can tell you I’m one of those players that wishes we could have an actual off-season,” Rahm said. He would love to have October, November and December tournament-free.
“I can be home and be dad and earn an offseason like basically almost every other athlete in this country can do.”
Golfers have been saying things like that — comparing themselves to other athletes — a lot in the last 18 months, largely thanks to the promises of a rival golf league. LIV Golf has helped bring golfer “salaries” in line with other pro sports, and its season comes to a close in October, refusing to start back up (if 2023 is any indication) until mid-February.
There’s something extremely tantalizing about that for the modern, globe-trotting Tour star. McIlroy himself sat out the Hawaii start to this season so he could spend more time with family after the holidays. Patrick Cantlay sounds like he might do exactly as Rahm wishes and not play anywhere but his home club for the final three months of the year. It’s an option afforded to him now more than ever before. But part of that comes with Cantlay’s extra-elevated place in the game. A true, multi-month offseason might only be available to the elite of the elite. There are, inevitably, a lot of players like Corey Conners, ranked 25th in the FedEx Cup, 31st in the OWGR, plenty good enough to earn his way into the top 50 year after year and offer that question: how long of a break do you want?
His gut is still undecided. Either four or five or six weeks off. Maybe seven? He really hasn’t had the option to take a voluntary break like this for most of a decade. So right now he’s got one tournament on his fall schedule planned. The RSM Classic, in November, because he can drive up from Jupiter, Florida.
“It’s interesting. It sounds appealing,” he said Wednesday. You could hear the intrigue in his voice. “‘Oh, I’d love to have an offseason.’ Take time off. But I love playing golf. I’d certainly be playing golf. It’s whether it’s [competition.]”
In that, Conners is like many pros. Year after year they play the same tournaments, stay in the same hotels and houses, even eat at the same restaurants. Taking time away from the golf clubs that make a long vacation possible — it feels a bit counterintuitive. They are creatures of habit. This fall they might make some new ones.