The condensed nature of this year’s PGA Tour and major championship schedule will see one of its first big blows occur this week at The Honda Classic, which is contested at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, mere miles away from professional golf’s de facto epicenter in Jupiter, Fla.
Previously one of the Tour’s best-attended events by the top-tier professionals, only three of the top-20 players in the world are teeing it up at the Bear Trap this week.
While the PGA Tour’s “Season of Championships” kicks off in two weeks at The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, Rory McIlroy came under much scrutiny this week for his announcement that he will be skipping The Irish Open later this summer in July.
McIlroy told the BBC at the WGC-Mexico Championship that given the truncated schedule and his hope to claim the Open Championship at Royal Portrush — just down the road from where he grew up — was his top priority, even if that meant missing out on his national open.
“I would definitely leave Augusta on the backburner and say if I could win at Portrush, win The Open Championship, lift the Claret Jug there, that would be… I’m trying not to think about it, because I think I would get over excited,” McIlroy told the BBC. “I never thought I’d play a major at home in Northern Ireland, so yeah I think, it would be the biggest achievement of my career, if I were able to do that.
“For me, that’s not the best way to prepare for what could be the biggest event of my life.”
Rory McIlroy explains why he’s decided to skip this year’s Irish Open. 🇮🇪https://t.co/IBJY41bJhp
— Golf365.com (@Golf365dotcom) February 21, 2019
“If there’s ever a year where I feel like I can miss the Irish Open, it’s this year. It’s a perfect storm. The Open’s at Portrush, if I were to play the Irish Open the Open Championship would be my third event in a row and for me personally, that’s not the best way to prepare for what could be the biggest event of my life.
“I want to give myself the best chance to win The Open Championship, and that’s not discrediting and that’s not belittling the Irish Open in any way but if I want to give myself the best chance of winning The Open Championship I want to play the week before to get tuned up on a links course and then I want to go straight in to The Open.
“That third week is just a little too much for me. I love the Irish Open, I’ve supported it my whole career, but if there is any year to miss the Irish Open it is this one and I hope people will understand because I’m not doing it for any other reason than I think it gives me the best chance of winning The Open Championship.”
While McIlroy laid out his reasoning quite well, his hometown newspaper, The Irish Independent, did not take the snub well.
“Rory McIlroy might as well have serrated the edge of an old lob wedge and thrust it into Paul McGinley’s ribcage,” Roy Curtis wrote. “If McIlroy’s confirmation that he will bypass this year’s Irish Open must feel like a lacerating knife in the back for tournament host McGinley, it speaks to the wider public as just the latest mystifying and infuriating lunge from a superstar increasingly astray, a wildly wobbling champion.
“Yet, if the Rory Years sprinkled stardust on the event, his snubbing – and, dress it up anyway, shine it with endless PR polish, but it remains a terrible snub to McGinley – is the equivalent of emptying the contents of a septic tank onto Lahinch’s world-famous Dell and Klondyke putting surfaces.
“It bathes the build-up to that week in July in a toxic sludge.
“The argument that turning up in Lahinch might somehow inhibit McIlroy’s assault on the majors, that it is necessary sacrifice if he is to end a five-year wait for his fifth grand slam, is not just as threadbare as a tattered, shopworn and forlorn welcome mat.
“It is an insult to the national intelligence.”
The article goes on to relate McIlroy’s choice to forego the event to Sergio Garcia’s disqualification-inducing behavior in Saudi Arabia and Matt Kuchar’s controversial caddie snubbing in Mexico.
As always, however, professional golfers are independent contractors and they are beholden to no one but their own self-interests, for better or for worse. And for McIlroy, in his mind, in order to give himself his best opportunity to win a second Claret Jug, he will be skipping The Irish Open.