Another of golf's most talented and marketable young stars has opted to stay in Europe rather than play on the PGA Tour in 2011. Rory McIlroy has joined Martin Kaymer and world No. 1 Lee Westwood in opting to decline a PGA Tour card for next year.
The reason? The PGA Tour, with its requirements that players participate in 15 events including the FedEx Championship, would keep McIlroy too far from home for too long.
"If you're not playing well in the states it can be a lonely place," McIlroy said after this past weekend's HSBC Champions. "But if you're not playing well on the European Tour, you still have plenty of mates to hang out with." Aw, come on, Rory! This is about not having friends? Somebody buy the kid a pint!
In all seriousness, McIlroy's defection (re-defection?) represents a growing threat to the PGA Tour, as the idea that the tour is not the end-all, be-all of golf is starting to take root. Yes, U.S. Open champ Graeme McDowell will be playing stateside, but the PGA Tour's must-play policies are rubbing many other European stars very much the wrong way. One golfer's regimented schedule is another's dictatorial mandate. And it can wear on guys who aren't from around here.
"I found myself in America last year, especially in the FedEx Cup playoff series, just not wanting to be there," McIlroy said. "I started switching on the Golf Channel and watching the Omega European Masters in Switzerland and thinking to myself I would rather be there. [...] There is no flexibility in your schedule as the FedEx Series forces you into making those events. You shouldn't just be going over to play in the FedEx Cup thinking about how much money you can make." You shouldn't? Man, that's all I'd be thinking about!
Anyway, it'll be interesting to see how Tim Finchem et al. spin this. My guess is, it'll go something like this: "Rory McIlroy's decision to play in Europe is HEY LOOK SHINY PENNY WHO WANTS A FREE LUNCH?" If the PGA Tour wants to retain (or regain) its status as the preeminent golf tour on the planet, it's going to have to figure a way to work with, not dominate, golfers who may not necessarily be in love with playing stateside.