Was Rory McIlroy Right? Is TPC River Highlands Obsolete?

COMMENTARY – I was interested but surprised at the comments attributed to Rory McIlroy after the Travelers Championship regarding the TPC River Highlands course being “obsolete.” 

I am a big fan of Rory’s and believe that he has always been a class act. I have friends in the media that have covered him from the start and have nothing but praise for Rory and the way he conducts himself – win or lose.  

At the risk of getting out of my lane, I cannot help but wonder how many close calls in tournaments in the past year – including a few majors – might have gone the other way if Rory had not found himself the de facto spokesperson for the PGA Tour vs. LIV. 

It must have been a meaningful distraction to be put on the spot for interview after interview during events. Yet he never complained or crossed the line of polite civility.  Could Rory’s recent comments reflect his broader frustration with the PGA Tour?

It made me want to see if the numbers support Rory’s observation.  First, his complaint was that the course was too short for today’s game.  This was reflected in the telecasts where it was mentioned many times that Rory had only wedges into all the par 4’s and could overpower the par 5’s as well.  I decided to compare the percentages of Fairway Approach shots from the following samples:

  • 2022 Tour – The average Fairway Approach shots for the entire PGA Tour 2022 season (sample size: 14,561 rounds).
  • 2023 Travelers – The average Fairway Approach shots by distance range for the entire FIELD this year. 
  • Rory’s 2023 Travelers – Rory’s Approach shots by distance range this year.

Bottom line, there is a noticeable difference in the allocations of the Approach shot frequency at the Travelers and the 2022 Tour averages.

While the differences in approach distances are noticeable, I am going to disagree with Rory. I don’t believe ‘different’ necessarily means ‘obsolete.’ 

River Highlands offers a needed respite from the march toward longer, more difficult courses.

Having played the course frequently, attended the event many times and worked with players that play in it every year, I have never heard a whisper of complaints about the course. 

At the same time, the overall event and hospitality shown to players and spectators is seen as the very best. 

Obsolete suggests the need for relocation or a major renovation – neither of which is called for.