Rory McIlroy’s European Tour gripes, graded by legitimacy (and pettiness)

September 30, 2019

Rory McIlroy has planted himself firmly back in the European tabloid headlines with a series of comments about the European Tour that cover some major ground. It’s hardly any secret the McIlroy has had a love-hate relationship with the Euro Tour since he established his residence in Florida full-time. It’s hardly a matter of apathy; there’s no question that McIlroy’s summer return to Northern Ireland meant a great deal to him.

Still, he clearly has some gripes with the way the Euro Tour runs parts of its operation. That feeling, combined with his general outspokenness, leads to plenty of media fodder. McIlroy’s a thoughtful guy, which means his gripes are well worth breaking down. Let’s take a look at five just from the last few weeks.

1. He might skip the Irish Open because it clashes with…the Fourth of July.

In his words: “The Fourth of July weekend in the States is a big deal for my now extended family, with my wife, my mother-in-law, father-in-law and celebrating that with them. There’s a lot that goes into it other than golf.

“It might work for everyone else. It might not work for me but I don’t want them to change the date just for me.”

Is this legit? No way! The Fourth of July is a fantastic summer celebration, but you’re telling me Rory McIlroy doesn’t have enough chances to sneak in a barbecue and a few pops with his in-laws?

Petty-meter: 11 out of 10. What could be worse than ditching your national open (Irish Open organizers seem to see this as Rory’s national open, though Rory, who’s from Northern Ireland, feels less obligated) for the gratuitous star-spangled excess of the Fourth of July? McIlroy could have said he was skipping a U2 concert for Nickelback and offended fewer Irishmen.

2. European Tour course setups are too easy.

In his words: “I’m sort of honestly sick of coming back over to the European Tour and shooting 15 under par and finishing 30th. I don’t think the courses are set up hard enough. There’s no penalties for bad shots. It’s tough when you come back when it’s like that. I don’t feel like good golf is regarded as well as it could be.

“It happened at the Scottish Open, as well, Renaissance, I finished 13, 14 under and finished 30th again. It’s not a good test. I think if the European Tour want to put forth a really good product, the golf courses and setups need to be tougher.”

Is this legit? I mean — sort of? He’s off-base because, 1., the Euro Tour’s courses are generally more interesting and just as challenging as PGA Tour setups, and 2., this was a pro-am, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the courses were set up cupcakeishly. But he’s got a point because hard setups and difficult tests are much more fun for viewers, and his dreams for course setups (“strategy, course management and shot-making”) come from a good place. The guy shot 15 under and finished T26. 11 under didn’t even crack the top 50! If you’re a fan of defending par, this was not your week.

Petty-meter: 6 out of 10. That first phrase — “I’m sort of honestly sick of coming back over to the European Tour”? Them’s fightin’ words.

3. He’s sick of long flights to Europe.

In his words (to Golf Digest’s John Huggan): “I don’t want to travel that much anymore. I’ve done it for 12 years. I want to have easy flights and not have to go across eight, nine time zones and have to get acclimatized. I’m happy to do what I’ve done this year.”

Is it legit? I’m always blown away by how much some pros from prior generations traveled, which required weeks and weeks and weeks at a time away from home. But McIlroy’s mindset is the modern mentality for moneyed pros. Why bother going through the hassle of flying around the world when you can just fly around the U.S. and make more money than you know what to do with?

Petty-meter: 1 out of 10. It sounds a bit pampered, to be sure. But Europe is geographically distant from Florida. Even flying private, that’s a bit of a haul to do regularly. Rather than going the “easy flight” route, I think McIlroy should cite a desire to lower his carbon footprint. Those private jets take a toll on the ice caps!

4. Playing the European Tour means supporting governments with sketchy human rights records.

In his words: (to Golf Digest’s John Huggan): “Winning the FedEx Cup was validation of my decision to play more in the States,” said McIlroy. “I’m getting stick [for not playing more in Europe], but I’m turning down millions of dollars [by not going] to Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia because I want to do the right thing. I want to play on the courses I want to play at. I don’t think I should get stick for that because I feel like I’m doing the right thing.”

Is it legit? Yeah! And honestly refreshing. This is very real issue and a contradiction that players from across the world have dealt with. Governments with well-documented abuses of human rights are profiting directly from European Tour events and are shelling out massive appearance fees to the world’s best players, many of whom are happy to accept. Tiger Woods turned down over $3 million to appear in Saudi Arabia last year. Paul Casey confirmed that he was skipping the same event over “human rights violations.” And now you can add McIlroy to the mix.

Petty-meter: 1 out of 10. Yeah, there are other events McIlroy could play besides those that fairly directly support murderous dictatorial regimes. But this is a compelling case.

5. A dumb tiebreaker cost him and his father the Dunhill Links Championship pro-am portion.

In his words: “We didn’t actually know it was the lowest pro’s score [as the tiebreaker], which I think is a bit unfair,” he continued. “It should be the lowest team score and we would have won it, but it’s been a great week.”

Is it legit? I mean, I guess so? The portion of the event in question is a team competition, so the tiebreaker should theoretically involve both teammates. Having “pro’s low Sunday score” doesn’t make much sense.

Petty-meter: 7 out of 10. Yeah, it’s just a pro-am, but there’s something sweet about him sticking up for a win with Pops.

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