Rory McIlroy critiques ‘obsolete’ Tour setup, reveals his design ‘blueprint’

rory mcilroy swings iron travelers

Rory McIlroy played well at the Travelers Championship, but offered a critique of the course setup on Sunday afternoon.

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Who knew live under par was actually an undersell?

Apparently, Rory McIlroy.

As McIlroy and the PGA Tour headed from Los Angeles to Connecticut for last week’s Travelers Championship, it always seemed likely that there would be a sliver of disappointment. The golf world had just moved on from a thrilling national championship at one of the country’s most celebrated architectural marvels (Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course), and now it was time to focus its energy on a course with a decidedly less celebrated history, TPC River Highlands.

While the Travelers has long been one of the Tour’s most beloved spots for the hordes of rabid New Englanders it attracts, the course has long been one of the least strategically difficult courses faced by the best players in the world. In the last six years, only one tournament winner has recorded a score worse than 17 under, and the event’s early rounds have become synonymous with a parade of mid-60s (and lower) scores.

This year, mid-week rain left things unusually easy, even by TPC River Highlands’ standards. The greens and fairways — traditionally firm, and the course’s two best defenses against high scores — were soggy and receptive. The breeze never blew. By the time the horn sounded on Thursday, Keegan Bradley’s nine-birdie, eight-under 62 wasn’t enough to claim a share of the lead.

On Saturday, Rickie Fowler flirted with golfing immortality before “settling” for a 60. A day later, Bradley shattered the tournament’s previous 72-hole scoring record, shooting his fourth-consecutive round in the 60s to claim a three-stroke win at a stunning winning score of 23 under.

Of course, par is only a number, and as the Tour would surely argue, what truly matters is the excitement of the competition between competitors. But at the same time, the cavalcade of lower scores — 109 of them under par, in total — left the tournament’s seventh-place finisher, Rory McIlroy, wondering if things were a little too easy.

“I don’t particularly like when a tournament is like this,” McIlroy said in a rare critique. “Unfortunately, technology has passed this course by, right? It sort of has made it obsolete, especially as soft as it has been with a little bit of rain that we had.”

As McIlroy alluded, it was hard not to watch the best players in the world torch TPC River Highlands for four days without wondering about the distance issue in golf, which has propelled pro players to previously unthinkable driving distances. The USGA’s proposed ball rollback, currently slated to go into effect in 2026, is intended to help make courses like River Highlands play to their original scope of difficulty.

As McIlroy looked around the field, which included 44 players with scores of 10 under or better, it was hard not to see the Travelers as anything other than a ringing endorsement for that rule.

“The conversations going back to, you know, limiting the golf ball and stuff like that, when we come to courses like this they just don’t present the challenge that they used to,” he said.

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That much was obvious on Sunday afternoon at the Travelers, particularly in the wake of two of the season’s tougher tests in the U.S. Open and Memorial Tournament.

As McIlroy looks back on those two weeks, he sees two “blueprints” for how Tour venues can be set up. The first, the Memorial, relies on thick rough, super-firm greens and fairways, and narrow margins for error. The second, LACC, is both wide and rough-free, but requires precision to earn birdie chances.

The LACC setup, McIlroy said, was his preferred style of test.

“I think the blueprint for a really good golf course isn’t growing the rough up and making the fairways tight. That bunches everyone together,” McIlroy said. “The blueprint is something like LACC where you have wide targets, but if you miss it’s penal. This isn’t that sort of golf course. It’s not that sort of layout. It doesn’t have the land to do that.”

Without that type of strategic thoughtfulness or that type of land, TPC River Highlands is left without any defenses against elite talent. And without any defenses, that old PGA Tour moniker — live under par — starts to look more like a mandate.

“Unfortunately,” McIlroy said, “when you get soft conditions like this and you’ve got the best players in the world, this is what’s going to happen.”

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