Golf superstar Rory McIlroy quits Europe for USPGA tour
US Open winner Rory McIlroy is set to spend a lot less time in Northern Ireland after the shock revelation that he intends to rejoin the USPGA Tour and set up home in Florida.
The Holywood-born star announced in the US that he wants to play a “full schedule” in America next year, admitting that he sees his long-term future across the Atlantic.
His decision is a huge blow to both the European Tour and Northern Ireland, which has been on a high since the 22-year-old’s stunning US Open triumph in June.
“I'm leaning towards taking my card here again — I'm comfortable in this country and I feel like my game suits the courses,” he said.
“Most of my favourite events are in the US and I'd like to give it a go.”
It is a major U-turn by McIlroy, who gave up his USPGA Tour membership after just one year last November, citing fatigue.
Just weeks ago he said Northern Ireland would always be his home, claiming: “I see myself always living here.”
Since then, however, McIlroy has split from his long-term girlfriend Holly Sweeney and reportedly hooked up with Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, who also spends much of her time in the US.
His love life and personal behaviour has been under constant scrutiny here, with ‘tweets’ between him and the tennis pro hitting the headlines, which may have helped him make his decision.
Sources within Team Rory also suggested he was struggling with all the attention back home and being “Northern Ireland’s superstar”.
There will be huge disappointment in Northern Ireland at his move.
However, the US Tour is widely viewed as more prestigious and carries a vastly higher prize fund.
McIlroy’s admission came in a press conference ahead of the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, which gets under way in Ohio today.
Next week he will bid to extend Northern Ireland’s status as the capital of the golf world when the year’s final Major, the USPGA championship, tees off in Atlanta, Georgia.
“I'm going to look at a few houses in Florida after the USPGA and I'm looking at maybe playing a full season over here,” McIlroy added.
“I seem to play my best golf here so it's something I'm looking at seriously.”
He added: “Belfast is always going to be my home but at least when I play in the Middle East at the start of the year I can come over to the States and stay for two or three months until after The Players (Championship).”
While there was little indication of what has changed McIlroy’s mind, his personal life has undoubtedly been a factor.
When he quit the US Tour last year, McIlroy said he wanted to be nearer Holly, adding that he enjoyed his family life at home.
“Holly has another two years at
university and we have two dogs, a nice house and I love my life back in Ireland. I don't ever want to give that up,” he said at the time.
Last month a BBC sports documentary revealed how McIlroy had invested in a state-of-the-art mini golf course extension at his Holywood home to boost his game.
“To have a practice facility at the back of my own house is incredible, it was done as an investment in my future,” he said.
“Since I got it built I have won my first Major, so it has paid for itself already.
“It is a long-term commitment to Northern Ireland, I see myself always living here.
“It would be a shame to leave it, you couldn't do it anywhere else.”
But recently there have been signs that McIlroy has grown uneasy with the increased media attention since his US Open win.
Asked about the scrutiny he has been under on and off the course since his triumph, he added: “The person I am holding hands with, we are both in a position where there's a high level of scrutiny.
“It's just something you have to deal with.”
In recent days McIlroy has been in the headlines more for his exploits away from the golf course.
At the weekend he caused controversy by apparently openly flirting with his new love interest, Danish tennis star Wozniacki, on Twitter.
It prompted an angry reaction from friends of Holly, who publicly criticised the behaviour of the new couple.
McIlroy has also faced criticism over his remarks on Twitter, including a controversial exchange with golf pundit Jay Townsend last week.
After a stellar rise Rory McIlroy joined the US PGA tour in 2009 18 months after turning professional and ranked 16 in the world.
He enjoyed success in a string of events, but after finishing tied for 20th place in the US Masters, he played unsuccessfully in two more events before his taste for the tour soured and he returned to Europe. He did well before going back to the US and his first win, but announced he was returning home to be nearer family and then girlfriend Holly Sweeney.
McIlroy has spoken of US courses in suiting his style of play and preferring the weather there.