The old saying has it that you can never go home. But not only is former Dubai resident Rory McIlroy bucking that trend this week through his participation in the DP World Tour Championship, the Northern Irishman intends to repeat the feat (sort of) eight years from now. He isn’t returning to his childhood home in Northern Ireland, but the plan is to make his way back to another part of the United Kingdom.
Rightly or wrongly, at the age of 34, McIlroy feels he has just less than a decade or so left at the top of the game. In preparation for a possibly diminished role, the four-time major champion and wife Erica have purchased a house “in the London area” that will be the family’s primary base thereafter. Not coincidentally, daughter Poppy will at that time be transitioning to high school.
All of which is for a still relatively distant future. More immediately, McIlroy is more focused on the climax to the DP World Tour season over the Earth course at the Jumeirah Golf Estates. Not that he has to worry about topping the Race to Dubai standings for a fifth time. That task is already taken care of, courtesy of McIlroy’s 2,082.53-point lead over second-placed Jon Rahm. The winner this week will earn just 2,000 points.
“I probably would have liked to have done it [winning] another way,” McIlroy said on Tuesday during a pre-tournament press conference. “But I’ve played well when I’ve came back over to the European tour this year. I won two Rolex Series events [the Dubai Desert Classic and the Scottish Open] and had some other really high finishes in tournaments that give a lot of points. So it’s really nice to have my name on the Harry Vardon Trophy for the fifth time and be just one behind Seve [Ballesteros] and still a few [three] behind Monty (Colin Montgomerie).”
McIlroy appreciated that the two mentioned are among the greats of European golf. “To be up alongside them is really something. If someone had told 18-year-old Rory when I was making my professional debut in 2007 that I would have won five Order of Merits up to this point, I wouldn’t have believed them. It shows the consistency that I’ve played with over the past few years. Even though I don’t feel like I’ve had a great year, I can still go ahead and achieve things like this.”
Indeed, asked to rate his play in the past 11 months, McIlroy gave himself “seven out of 10”, his one big regret not winning the U.S. Open at the Los Angeles Country Club.
“I had the two wins and my best-ever Ryder Cup, which feels like a win to me, especially coming off the back of Whistling Straits,” McIlroy said. “So I’ve been happy with the year. I’ll rue that miss at L.A. I had a great opportunity to pick up another major and I didn’t. But I’m not going to let that take away from the fact that it’s been another really consistent, solid year with some really good performances. My game is in as good a shape as it’s ever been throughout my career.”
Inevitably given McIlroy’s high-profile involvement in, well, just about every aspect of professional golf these days, the conversation soon moved on to other matters. Specifically, he was questioned on where the behind-the-scenes talking between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour, LIV Golf in the shape of the Saudi Public Investment Fund and various other cash-rich financial organisations in the U.S. is headed. And he wasn’t giving much away, other than his hope that some of the money flooding into the game could be used for good causes.
“The professional game has never been stronger or healthier or from a financial standpoint, there’s never been a better time to be a professional golfer,” he said. “But that’s 5 percent of what golf is. It’s the golf that amateurs play; it’s the golf that my dad plays. It’s not just about us. It’s about the overall health of the game. We are all talking about this investment coming into the top level of golf, but I think it also needs to go into the R&A and the USGA and for them to try to increase participation.”
So does he expect clarity any time soon?
“I wouldn’t think so,” McIlroy said. “If you were in the middle of it, you would see that there’s a path forward. It’s just that no one on the outside has any details. Loose lips sink ships, so we are trying to keep it tight and within walls. I’m sure when there’s news to tell, it will be told. But getting something done sooner rather than later is a good thing. Even if we get a deal done, it doesn’t mean that it’s actually going to happen. That’s up to the United States government and whether the Department of Justice think that it’s the right thing to do. So it wouldn’t be a sure thing.”
Ah, but McIlroy wasn’t done. Specifics were required. And, as it turns out, the need for drastic change to the structure of professional golf is clear in his mind.
“If we can create a perfect golf calendar, what would it look like? And I don’t think it would look like it looks right now,” McIlroy said. “I think there would be changes made. Look at what Max Homa and Justin Thomas did last week, going down to South Africa. They had a really good time. They played in a different part of the world where they had never played before. If more of that sort of stuff could happen, I think it would be really good for golf.”
Still, it wasn’t all about change. McIlroy is in favour of a nod to the past in the shape of revitalised national Opens around the globe. In his time as a professional, he has won the Irish Open, the Scottish Open, the Canadian Open, the Australian Open, as well as the U.S. Open and the Open Championship.
“Those events have some great history in our game and a lot of tradition,” he said. “They are probably some of my most prized possessions in my trophy case. You look at the names on the trophies and that’s what golf is about. It’s being able to try to compare yourself to previous generations. To me, that’s what being a professional golfer and being competitive is all about is being able to go and win all over the world.”
Starting this week in the United Arab Emirates. His second home. Or maybe his third.