The four-time major winner skipped last month’s RBC Heritage, the second PGA Tour designated event he’d sat out this year, to reset and refresh after admitting he’d felt emotionally drained by his role in speaking up against the Saudi-backed breakaway circuit. The move cost McIlroy $3 million from the tour’s Player Impact Programme, but he said it had been an “easy decision” and is hoping to get back to playing good golf in the season’s second major, which starts at Oak Hill in New York State on Thursday.
“Thank goodness for Rory McIlroy and the people that take the responsibility to be on the board and have a voice and put their time and energy in that because we need those players,” said double US Open champion Curtis Strange, speaking on a conference call set up by ESPN to preview the PGA of America event. “But, unfortunately, it does weigh on them a little bit. I wouldn't try to advise him on anything because I'm not privy to what he's feeling right now. But I can only imagine. You put in so much energy to try to peak for a tournament like in April, the Masters, and you don't play well. Why that is, I don't know. Then frustration sets in, and you want to get away for a week or so, so you withdraw the next week. We've all gone through that. I certainly understand that.
"As much as you might love Harbour Town and Hilton Head, you withdraw because you've got to get yourself together and you know you're starting to go down a rabbit hole that you don't want to go very far down because it's tough to climb back out. I feel for him because I really truly believe this, this LIV conversation the last year and a half, maybe two years, with him being somewhat of the voice and being involved in the schedule and the meetings and the phone calls, I think it's taken a lot away from his golf, and I think it's fatigued him a bit.”
McIlroy’s last major win came in the PGA Championship, but that was just under nine years ago at Valhalla. Later this year, he will be returning to Royal Liverpool, where he won The Open that same year. Speaking on the same call, another two-time US Open winner Andy North said: “We've seen a lot of players struggle with their game when they've been on the board because all of a sudden you're distracted, and I'm not even talking about LIV, I'm just talking about normal tour board activity. We've seen players resign once they've been on the board because they felt it was affecting their play. There's a lot of moving pieces in this, and there's no one perfect answer, but you have to get away from the game and get your head cleared out, and if he's done that, I expect him to be a threat in Rochester.”