Rory McIlroy knows the rules. That much is for sure. He's played an integral role in reshaping the structure and schedule of the PGA Tour in response to LIV Golf, and a key selling point for the new PGA Tour is getting the best players in the world together more often. Toward that end, the tour decided to tie players' payouts from the Player Impact Program—the glorified popularity contest that rewards 20 guys for the attention they bring to the game—to their participation in "designated events," $20 million tournaments that are interspersed throughout the year.
Players are allowed to skip only one of 17 designated events, which includes the four majors, if they want their full PIP payout. (This is changing after this year—next year's PIP payouts will not be tied to participation in any tournaments, giving guys back the freedom to pick and choose their own schedules). McIlroy skipped the first designated event of the year, the Sentry Tournament of Champions, because he wanted an extended break in December and didn't want to fly all the way from Florida to Hawaii for one event.
Per the rules, he's entitled to do that, but skipping the first meant he'd have to play the other 16 if he wants his full bonus for finishing second in the PIP (behind only Tiger Woods), which would've been $12 million. Which brings us to this week. Fresh off a bitterly disappointing missed cut at the Masters, the only major championship he hasn't won, McIlroy decided to withdraw from this week's RBC Heritage, which is a designated event. Why the PGA Tour went with a designated event after the biggest week of the year, when most guys would just want to chill, is a head-scratching decision. But that's a discussion for another time.
A PGA Tour source confirmed that because there doesn't seem to be an extenuating circumstance—like, say, an injury—McIlroy's withdrawal means he will forfeit the final 25% of his PIP money. Per an FAQ document distributed to media back in December:
Q: When do the top performers receive their bonus money for the Player Impact Program?
A: The players eligible for bonus money through the Player Impact Program receive payments in installments: 75 percent upon the conclusion of the the Sentry Tournament of Champions, and 25 percent upon completion of the designated tournament requirement, service requirement and mandatory tournament rule.
The "mandatory tournament rule" requires players to play one non-designated event, and "service requirement" means they have to participate in some sort of giving-back day.
McIlroy has made $71 million in his PGA Tour career—not including bonuses from the FedEx Cup, which has he won three times for a total of roughly $60 million, not including the $17 million he's made from the PIP, not including his endorsement earnings and not including the money he's made from his venture capital investments. All this to say: he doesn't need the money. At all. Still, to skip a tournament even after having the Masters weekend off hints at just how much the disappointment last week, and the last year in general, has taken out of the four-time major winner.
McIlroy has acted as the de-facto spokesman for the PGA Tour throughout its battle with LIV Golf. He's been at the podium constantly, explaining the tour's thinking on new initiatives and weighing in on all the key issues in the game. That, in addition to maintaining a high level of play—he's No. 3 in the world rankings and, since the launch of LIV Golf, has won four times. But he's now missed the cut in the two biggest events of the year, the Players Championship and the Masters, and you wonder if he's suffering from what Brandel Chamblee called "sensory blitzkrieg." (His words, not mine). Sometimes you just need a break no matter the ramifications.
Jon Rahm, the new Masters Champion, is indeed playing this week—even though he hasn't skipped a designated yet. He was asked why.
"It did cross my mind. It did cross my mind, but I made a commitment earlier in the year, and I want to honor that commitment. I also, talking to Kelley, I put myself in the shoes of not only the spectators, but the kids as well. If I was one of the kids, I would want to see the recent Masters champion play good or bad, just want to be there."