Why Rory McIlroy’s WD from the RBC Heritage cost him millions

rory mcilroy swings driver masters

Rory McIlroy's costly WD at the RBC Heritage cost him more than just this week's paycheck.

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You don’t have to be a detective to know this probably hasn’t been an enjoyable week for Rory McIlroy.

The disenchantment began on Saturday, when McIlroy’s Masters came to an abrupt (and unceremonious) end after only two rounds of play at Augusta National. It was then, around noon ET, that the four-time major champ officially missed the cut at the 2023 Masters, ending months of anticipation surrounding his chances of completing the career grand slam.

It was a heartbreaking loss for McIlroy, who looked dejected as he walked off the 18th green having signed a 77 on his scorecard. But as it turned out, that would only be the beginning of his misfortune for the week.

On Monday morning, with the ink still fresh on Jon Rahm’s green jacket victory, McIlroy withdrew from this weekend’s RBC Heritage without explanation. At first, the decision to skip out on the tournament was seen as understandable; a choice well within his rights as a touring pro with the freedom to choose his own schedule. But as more details emerged about the WD, it became apparent that McIlroy’s decision not to travel to Hilton Head also came at a precipitous financial cost.

As a result of his decision to WD from the RBC, he not only lost out on his chunk of the weekend’s $20 million designated event purse, but also lost some $3 million in bonus money guaranteed to him at the beginning of the 2023 season, per PGA Tour guidelines.

The bonus money ties back to the Tour’s highly controversial Player Impact Program — a prize pool given to players who finish top amongst a series of Tour metrics measuring popularity. In 2022, McIlroy was a highly popular Tour pro, winning a colossal $12 million payout from the fund for finishing second in its annual rankings.

But as part of larger changes at the start of the 2023 season, the Tour changed its methodology for paying out PIP winners. Under the new rules, 75 percent of those who earned a PIP payout would be paid out upon the start of the 2023 season at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. The remaining 25 percent, however, would be paid out for those who met the Tour’s qualifying threshold of playing in 17 of the year’s 18 designated events.

At the time, the decision seemed aimed at ensuring those who won the Tour’s PIP money (and by extension were counted amongst its top players) had ample incentive to participate in the designated event format. While it was an unpopular decision amongst many of the game’s top players — who place a heavy emphasis on the freedom to choose their own schedule — it was seen as an important piece of the Tour’s overall positioning to require player attendance at top events. At the time, McIlroy himself seemed to agree.

“When I tune into a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game I expect to see Tom Brady throw a football. When I tune into a Formula 1 race I expect to see Lewis Hamilton in a car,” he said. “Sometimes what’s happened on the PGA Tour is we all act independently and we sort of have our own schedules, and that means that we never really get together all that often.”

But after missing the Sentry Tournament of Champions in order to compete in the Dubai Desert Classic earlier in the season, McIlroy didn’t have the leverage to miss another event. When he WD’d from the RBC Heritage, he was violating the Tour’s rule, which meant that 25 percent of PIP winnings was suddenly out the window. For McIlroy, that remaining 25 percent amounted to some $3 million in lost earnings.

Now, it’s fair to point out that McIlroy doesn’t exactly want for money. Various websites list his net worth as between $175 million and $600 million. But $3 million is $3 million; an amount that Rory apparently viewed as worth parting with for the peace of mind found in an extra week off.

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It’s been a difficult 2023 season for McIlroy already, who has once again found himself as the pro game’s go-between for PGA Tour structural changes. He also MC’d at the Players Championship in March after spearheading a tense players meeting that outlined future changes to the designated events structure. At the time, he said he looked forward to stepping away from the limelight in the near future.

“I’d love to get back to being a golfer, yeah,” he said at the time. “Look, it’s been a busy couple of weeks, and it’s been — honestly it’s been a busy sort of six or eight months. But as I said at the start of the week, everything has sort of been announced now, and the wheels have been put in motion, so it should obviously quiet down from here.”

McIlroy has played only two events in the month since that start — the Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin and last week’s Masters. Now it seems he’ll have at least two more weeks off before his next scheduled appearance at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C.

That time should prove ample for a proper recharge — the kind Rory hasn’t had since at least the conclusion of the 2022 Tour season. It’s anyone’s guess how his game will look upon his return.

Here’s hoping it’s better than his bank account.

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