Rory McIlroy pulled off a transatlantic popularity double when he won his third PGA Tour Player of Year award and promised to tee it up in 2020 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open if the new May date is confirmed.
The Holywood star beat Brooks Koepka (as well Matt Kuchar and Xander Schauffele) in a vote of his peers, claiming his third Jack Nicklaus Award from the Golden Bear himself after an incredibly consistent season that brought him three wins and the FedEx Cup title but no majors.
The decision was a surprise considering Koepka won the PGA Championship, finished second in the Masters and the US Open and fourth in The Open in a three-win season.
After playing exclusively in the US until July, skipping the Irish Open at Lahinch, McIlroy racked up 14 top 10 finishes in the US and vowed to repeat his US-centric schedule in 2020 before admitting that with a May 28-31 date likely for the Irish Open in 2020, he'd “definitely” play if a move to May is confirmed.
"I don't think I'll miss The Irish Open for two years in a row," he said. "I saw that the dates changed to the end of May it looks like, and if that's the case, I will definitely make the trip. I will definitely make the trip back over for that event."
McIlroy had feared he would come up short to world number one Koepka in a vote by his peers for Player of Year, despite following wins in The Players and the RBC Canadian Open with a final round win over Koepka for the Tour Championship and the $15 million FedEx Cup bonus.
"You know, I think players don't just feel that four weeks a year is important," McIlroy said. "It's more than that. We play a lot more. Why do we play 25 times a year if only four weeks are important?
"I think that's a huge vote of confidence from the players that we play for more than just, you know, maybe what the narrative suggests.
"I thought maybe Brooks winning the PGA Championship this year was going to be the difference-maker, but you know, the other players thought differently and I'm very honoured that they thought enough of my season to give me this award."
The result of the vote was not made public and it certainly drew plenty of comment on social media about the relative importance of the majors versus events like The Players.
Whether McIlroy would have swapped seasons with Koepka or Masters champion remains to be seen.
And when asked if he’d swap his 2014 season, when he won The Open, the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and the most recent of his four majors at the PGA Championship, he gave a telling answer.
“Yeah, I mean, I guess, look, every year's different. Every year, I've already had a year like 2014. I might have a year like that again. You know, I'm probably -- I'm happier with my game, put it that way. I'm happier with where my game is now. I feel like I'm a better player now than I was in 2014, and that gives me a lot of -- that gives me a lot going forward.”