Rory McIlroy likely to miss 2019 Irish Open at Lahinch
Former tournament host says he is looking to play the week before each Major next year
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays an approach shot to the fifth green during the DP World Tour Championship ProAm at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy could miss the 2019 Irish Open at Lahinch Golf Club based on a revised playing schedule that will see him spend the majority of the first eight months of the year in America but more pertinently in reverting to what proved a successful on-course formula while winning his four Majors.
McIlroy has said that he will play “Irish or Scottish,” as one of the four events that he requires to retain his membership of the European Tour, a status on which he will take a view next year; just for 2019 though as he wants to continue playing in the Ryder Cup. The next biennial match takes place at Whistling Straits in 2020, meaning he can take a step back from the Tour next year without any effect on his chances of qualifying.
The other tournament to which he is already committed is the Omega European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club in Switzerland.
The 29-year-old Northern Ireland golfer, speaking ahead of the DP World Tour Championship which starts on Thursday, explained that in three of his four Major wins, he played the week before and that is a strategy he may reprise next season.
If that is the case then he will play the Scottish Open at the Renaissance golf club, a tournament that takes place the week preceding the 148th British Open Championship at Royal Portrush, for what will be the fourth Major in the schedule from next year, as the US PGA Championship has switched to May.
His schedule will be contingent upon how he fares in the Majors in perhaps swapping in and out of some tournaments during the second half of the year.
McIlroy explained: “I am going to try and play the week before Majors as three of my four Major wins have been by playing the week before. So, that’s sort of up in the air right now. I will go to Crans (in Switzerland) after the Tour Championship. I am obligated to play one of the Omega sponsored events as I am not going to play in Dubai (Desert Classic).”
The world number six hosted the Irish Open for the last four years, starting at Royal County Down (2015), before moving to the K Club (2016) – McIlroy won that tournament in spectacular fashion – then Portstewart (2017) and finally Ballyliffin this year. Paul McGinley will act as tournament host in Lahinch and may try and persuade McIlroy to travel to Clare instead of North Berwick.
The European Tour encourages players to support their respective national tournaments but the fact that the Open Championship will be staged in Northern Ireland next year could be construed as McIlroy honouring that commitment.
The PGA Tour in the US has frontloaded its schedule while it’s the reverse for the European Tour with the majority of their Rolex series events – the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth has moved to September – and the culmination to the Race to Dubai taking place in the second half of the year.
McIlroy did so much to revive the Irish Open by inveigling several marquee names to grace the event during that four-year stretch and in return reciprocated by playing in a couple of tournaments he normally wouldn’t in recent seasons.
He explained: “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 (Majors and Fed-Ex series) and that is why I am taking a big off-season to get myself ready,” a reference to the fact that after Dubai he will play one event, the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in the next 13 weeks.
“(It’s) to have that break and impose an off-season on myself to then go at it hard from March all the way through to basically the end of the season.”
On the issue of remaining a member of both Tours, he conceded: “Um, I don’t know. Right now I’ve got two events on my schedule in Europe and I don’t have to commit to that until next year.
“I am starting my year off in the States and that will be the big focus of mine up until the end of August and then we will access from there. I’ve a couple ‘pure’ European Tour events on my schedule up until the end of August. 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.
“If I want to continue to contend in the Majors and 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. Right now that is all sort of up in the air but if it were to be that I don’t fulfil my membership next year (He must play four European tour events), it’s not a Ryder Cup year so it’s not the end of the world.
“I am always going to want to play the Ryder Cup; if that does happen so be it and I will try and make the Ryder Cup team (by playing the minimum number of events) the year (2020) after.”
If McIlroy does not play in the stipulated four tournaments in Europe next year, it would preclude him as things stand from ever becoming a Ryder Cup captain or vice-captain.
The European Tour Tournament Committee as part of a revision of the Ryder Cup qualification process announced in January, 2017: “Furthermore, the committee also introduced a new regulation stating that players cannot be a European Ryder Cup captain or a vice-captain if they decline membership of the European Tour or fail to fulfil their minimum event obligation in any season, from 2018 onwards.”