McIlroy simply being honest about $10 million

ATLANTA -- It is easy to get jaded about things, to proclaim that professional athletes are unaware of how good they have it, perhaps a bit tone-deaf to the world at large that could never, ever dream of making the kind of money in a lifetime that is available to them annually, even weekly.

And so there was undoubtedly a recoil reaction to Rory McIlroy's comment this week at East Lake when asked about the $10 million bonus that is on the line for the winner of the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup.

"Luckily, that amount of money doesn't mean much to me anymore," said McIlroy, 26, who shot 4-under-par 66 Thursday to trail first-round leader Henrik Stenson by 3 strokes at the Tour Championship.

Now of course that doesn't come off very well taken just as it appears. And it's not exactly an endorsement of the entire FedEx Cup concept, which pays $35 million in bonus money -- on top of huge purses -- to players all the way down to 150th in the standings.

But you have to love McIlroy's honesty. And what is he supposed to say? The guy is guaranteed more than that every year, per his various endorsement deals.

And it is also important to note that McIlroy said his comment in the context of what ultimately becomes the most important thing to professional golfers: Winning. It really does take care of everything.

"It will go in the bank and if I want to buy something nice, I will," McIlroy said. "I mean like it's nice to think that you could win $10 million this week, but that's not what excites me. It excites me to play well and to try and win. And the FedEx Cup is ... it's one of the only things that I haven't put on my [résumé] and that would be more exciting to do that rather than walk away with a check."

Actually, McIlroy would walk away with $9 million deposited in his bank account, a good bit of it to be taken by the U.S. and UK governments, with $1 million deferred in a retirement account.

But he is simply stating what has come to be his reality. And to be successful in this game, you can't think about the money.

Getting dollar signs out of his head, ultimately, helped current No. 1 Jason Day excel.

"You focus on it too much and you shoot yourself in the foot," said Day, who grew up poor in Australia and admitted when he first turned pro that he thought about the money because he never had any. "Now I'm not thinking about money. I'm thinking about winning."

Even turning pro at a young age (18), McIlroy said he never thought about how much was at stake, whether it be the tournament purse or the difference between a missed putt and a made putt.

"I would be way more nervous over a putt to beat Tiger Woods for a dollar than I would over a putt for 10 million dollars," McIlroy said. "It's just never been that much of a motivating factor for me."

That attitude no doubt helps McIlroy. When Woods turned pro in 1996, he had signed a $20 million deal with Nike before he ever stuck a tee in the ground. Even though he needed to "earn" money to accomplish his short-term goals related to exemptions, don't think already having it didn't help.

In the case of McIlroy, he has earned more than $28 million on the PGA Tour, so the $10 million put up against that -- more than one third -- would appear to be a big deal. But that's just PGA Tour official earnings.

It doesn't count what he's made on the European Tour, where he is also a full-time member and is set to accumulate more in the coming months as he pursues another Race to Dubai title, with three big-money events and another potential bonus windfall.

And of course there is the outside income. His current Nike deal pays him more than $10 million a year annually, which precludes being a mathematician -- as is the case in trying to figure out the various FedEx Cup points breakdowns. He's got that Omega endorsement, as well as one with Bose and others. He gets paid handsomely to show up at outings.

So sure, it's perhaps a bit easier to understand how $10 million might not get McIlroy's heart racing and hands sweating.

But his comments also put a bit of a dent in original allure of the FedEx Cup playoffs. Golf is comprised of so many governing bodies that the PGA Tour has no direct stake in any of the major championships. While the powers that be were in no way trying to replicate the majors, they were looking for their own stamp outside of the Players Championship, and figured a season-ending "playoff" series would be a good way to wrap up their year.

To make it work, however, they had to pile on the cash to attract the game's best players, to assure their participation.

While each of these tournaments has an $8.5 million purse and pays $1.44 million to the winner, that is not much more than what is standard fare week in and week out on the PGA Tour -- although this is still an incredibly lucrative stretch of golf.

That's why McIlroy thought nothing of skipping the first playoff event. And why Sergio Garcia (more than $40 million in career PGA Tour earnings alone) skipped the first two.

As Day put it a few weeks ago, "It's like a double-edged sword. If you win, the money comes after. And it's amazing, the more you win, the more money comes after."

And as hard as it might be to comprehend for the masses who can never fathom such a payday, that kind of mindset makes a lot of sense -- and plenty of dollars, too.