ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Rory McIlroy has good reason to live in South Florida from the year-round opportunity to hone his game, to a long list of peers sharing the same zip code and the tax breaks.
Especially the tax breaks.
But McIlroy, who has called Jupiter, Florida, his home for a decade, revealed his golf crush Tuesday, and it may surprise those who believe golf starts and stops in Palm Beach County.
“The northeast is sort of my favorite golf to play in this country,” McIlroy said from Oak Hill Country Club, site of this year’s PGA Championship.
“I love the golf courses up here and I love the tradition, and a lot of the historic golf course architects started their journeys up here and have built some amazing golf courses.”
McIlroy has other reasons to talk up western New York, one that supersedes golf. Rochester is where his wife, Erica Stoll, was born and raised. They married on April 22, 2017.
Still, McIlroy doesn’t quite see this week’s PGA Championship as a homecoming, but acknowledges the connection and increased popularity with so much family in the area.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a hometown event, but it’s hopefully going to get some more support than most of the others in the field, which is nice,” he said.
“I’ve spent summers here, I’ve spent falls here, I’ve spent a few Christmases here. I really love the seasons. We live in Florida. We don’t get that. So it’s nice to come up here and see the leaves change in October and have the snow at Christmastime. There’s certainly parts of it that I’ve really enjoyed and will continue to enjoy.”
Something else we don’t get very much in South Florida, a winning NFL team. Which brings us to another way Rory has connected to family, friends and fans in Western New York.
“It certainly makes it easier to root for the Bills when Josh Allen is throwing the football,” he said.
McIlroy has never met Allen, missing his chance at this year’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
“I’d obviously love to meet him,” he said.
Time off to address mental health
McIlroy, 34, is hoping to use the PGA Championship as a restart to his season after a difficult few weeks. Besides missing the cut at the Masters, he has been taking time off to work on his mental health, and they there was forfeiting $3 million from his Player Impact Program payout for opting out of a second “elevated event,” the RBC Heritage.
Nobody had more on his plate in the last few years than McIlroy. He took on the role as the PGA Tour’s biggest defender in the war of words with LIV Golf. He was a founding member of TMRW Sports Group (a sports tech business) along with Tiger Woods. He was as involved as anyone in the Tour’s radical changes to the schedule and purses as one of the four player directors on the PGA Tour’s policy board and a former chairman of the Player Advisory Council.
One day alone, the week before the Players Championship, Rory spent seven hours in a meeting.
That led to mental fatigue, which bubbled up during the Masters.
McIlroy finally admitted in an interview this month with Golf Channel that the last 12 months were taxing. He said he needed a break for his “mental and emotional well-being.” That time was spent at his Jupiter home.
On Tuesday, Rory spoke about the Masters, and missing out on another chance at the career grand slam after feeling his game was in a good place entering the tournament.
“Golf is golf, and it happens and you’re going to have bad days,” he said. “It wasn’t really the performance of Augusta that’s hard to get over, it’s just more the mental aspect and the deflation of it and sort of trying to get your mind in the right place to start going forward again, I guess.”
That mind, he says, is back in the right place. Whether that translates into a 24th win on the PGA Tour and fifth major — Rory is a two-time winner of the Wanamaker Trophy, 2012 and 2014 — remains to be seen.
And part of that healing just may be Rory deciding to tone down the rhetoric when it comes to LIV Golf. Nobody has been more outspoken and critical of the Saudi-backed league and no player has rankled LIV commissioner and CEO Greg Norman more than Rory.
Late last year, Rory said Norman needs to step aside as LIV’s commissioner. Norman reacted by telling McIlroy to “watch what you say.”
McIlroy’s tone was much different Tuesday. At one point, he was asked if he will consciously sidestep the LIV narrative going forward.
“Yeah,” he said, without any explanation.
One burden lifted.