Rory McIlroy intends to give up his full European Tour membership in 2019, aiming instead to focus on his PGA Tour career in the United States.
Ahead of the European Tour's season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, McIlroy said he will be shunning the Euro Tour membership for 2019 only, resuming it in 2020 in a Ryder Cup year. McIlroy said his decision was based on the shuffling of the global golf schedule with the move of The Players Championship from May to March so the PGA Championship could move from August to a new permanent date in May. That has meant the European Tour's biggest events, with the exception of the Middle East Swing in January, have largely shifted to a space between July and November.
"It is the result of the changes," he said. "I don't have to commit to anything until May, so I will not have played a European Tour event ... I will play the WGCs and majors and events like that, but the true European Tour season does not start until July. The way the schedule has worked for next year, it is going to be different for a lot of guys. Everything is going to be so condensed between March and August, and that is why I am taking a big offseason to get myself ready ... then go at it hard from March all the way through to basically the end of the season."
McIlroy will start his year in Hawaii at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January, then play somewhat sporadically until the Florida Swing in March. After winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, McIlroy had a frustrating year. His Bay Hill win is his only one since winning the 2016 Tour Championship and FedEx Cup.
The Ulsterman said his goal is to play the best available competition each week, and the European Tour's two-tiered system of events means those top-tier fields are now clustered in the back half of the calendar year.
"I guess my thing is that I want to play against the strongest fields week in and week out, and for the most part of the season that is in America," he said. "If I want to continue to contend in the majors and to continue my journey back towards the top of the game, then that's what I want to do."
For a European-born player to qualify for the Ryder Cup team, they must have European Tour membership, which includes playing in four non-major, non-World Golf Championships events sanctioned by the European Tour. McIlroy will do that in 2020.
"If it were to be that I don't fulfill my membership next year, it's not a Ryder Cup year so it's not the end of the world," he said. "I am always going to want to play the Ryder Cup, and I will try and make the team the year later."
However, McIlroy could be giving up his chance to become a future European Ryder Cup captain. As part of membership changes announced for 2018 (including reducing the membership requirement from five to four non-major, non-WGC events played), a player gives up their chance of being captain if they give up their membership: "Players cannot be a European Ryder Cup captain or vice captain if they decline membership of the European Tour or fail to fulfill their minimum event obligation in any season."
Is it worth it?