Rory McIlroy has revealed that he may not fulfil the requirements for European Tour membership next season – a decision which would rule him out of ever being a Ryder Cup captain or vice-captain.
McIlroy needs to play four European Tour tournaments outside the majors and World Golf Championship events, but currently only has two on his schedule.
Players must be a member of the European Tour to be eligible to play in the Ryder Cup and, under new regulations introduced in January 2017, “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.”
“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 assess from there,” McIlroy said ahead of the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
“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 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, 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, so if that does happen so be it and I will try and make the Ryder Cup team the year after.”
McIlroy’s decision will be a major blow to European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley, who launched the Rolex Series last year in an effort to prevent Europe’s star names from flocking to the lucrative PGA Tour.
The eight events each have a prize fund of at least £5.4 million, with the BMW PGA Championship moving to September and the Italian Open to October following the US PGA Championship switching from August to May.
“It is a big shift but I think it’s good for a lot of reasons,” McIlroy added. “It is good for the European Tour because they have events to shine.
“Wentworth is going to be in September, the Italian Open and a lot of the big events are going to be after the PGA Tour season, so they are going to be the biggest events and strongest events in the world that week which is a good thing.”
McIlroy’s slim chance of winning the Race to Dubai for the fourth time disappeared when he was unable to win last week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge, but the Northern Irishman hopes a new driver can help maintain his incredible form at Jumeirah Golf Estates where he has recorded finishes of 3-5-11-1-5-2-1-9.
“I think back to the first tee shot at Augusta on Sunday; Wentworth on the final day; Akron, final day; Tour Championship, final day. The reason I didn’t play better was because I didn’t put the ball in the fairway, and the reason I didn’t put the ball in the fairway is because I have this miss to the right with the driver,” the 29-year-old added. “Unfortunately the new driver is only going to last a week because I have to get a new one next year again, but at least it gives me a better chance to win this week, I guess.”
Meanwhile, Tommy Fleetwood admits he faces a tough task to overhaul Ryder Cup partner Francesco Molinari and win the Race to Dubai for the second year in succession.
Fleetwood trails Open champion Molinari by more than a million points and needs to win the Dubai event to have a chance of being crowned European No 1 again. And even that would not be enough if Molinari finishes inside the top five. “It’s nice to have a chance, but it’s a massively tall order,” Fleetwood said.