Wednesday 26 July 2017

Family affair might be the tonic to get Rory back on course

Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki pictured together during 2013
Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki pictured together during 2013
How the Irish Independent's Karl MacGinty broke the story last May

Rory McIlroy finally confirmed yesterday that he is going out on his own after setting up Rory McIlroy Incorporated. His father, Gerry, will take an important role in the management company.

However, Horizon, the agency which McIlroy announced he has left, is seeking compensation from the two-time major champion for quitting his five-year contract after two years.

Some day, Rory McIlroy will surely come to wonder about the silent thefts of glory. In giving him the wealth of an oil magnate, golf has taken away a small multiple of the mundane things that define the colour of a kid's personality. If his life was remotely normal, he would be in the Bahamas today, toasting the marriage of a friend.

But McIlroy's absence from Graeme McDowell's wedding party speaks far louder than any of the stiffly worded statements rolling off PR presses yesterday.

The formal announcement of his break from Horizon Sports Management arrived while most senior personnel of the firm were checking in for McDowell's big day.

We can thus but assume that Rory's fractious departure from Horizon has claimed that friendship among others. Both sides of the divide acknowledged in yesterday's statements that the issue of McIlroy's relationship with Horizon is now a legal matter. So Heaven knows when true resolution will be reached, if ever.

What we do know is that McIlroy has not won a tournament this season and, having been ranked number one in the world last year, he is currently at six.

No doubt the priority of his new management team, unveiled yesterday as a seeming co-operative of his father, Gerry, and some family associates, will be to halt that slide and project his image again as an irresistible symbol of success.

But it is jarring to think that, at just 24, McIlroy is now into his seventh year as a golf professional feeling as if his life was, at times, being scrutinised on some giant Petri dish. True, much of this has been self-inflicted. His private life gets lit up like an ice-rink because McIlroy and his partner choose to make it so. Theirs is the biggest celebrity relationship in world sport and it is clear that both he and Caroline Wozniacki enjoy playing puppeteers with a breathless media.

But increasingly, there is a sense of McIlroy's smile drawing narrower by the day.

When he walked off the course after eight holes at the Honda Classic in March, McIlroy was honest enough with reporters to put his decision down to his head simply not being "in the right place".

One hour later, it was as if the monstrous scale of his stature in the game demanded a more corporate-appropriate explanation. Hence that absurd statement released to media about a wisdom tooth.

From now on, though, it seems The Communications Clinic, headed by PR guru and newspaper columnist Terry Prone, intends to position a full-time consultant to work at McIlroy's side. It would seem folly if it didn't.

Because he exists in a world that leaves no room for ambiguous comment or, sometimes, even candour.

McIlroy must walk a PR tightrope, particularly when scrutiny focuses on equipment issues that might shine an unflattering light on his primary paymaster, Nike. When you sign that epic scale of contract, you suspend a lot of freedoms. Hence the mixed signals endlessly floating around his story just now.

On the one hand, some remarkably open interviews "brain-dead ... seriously I've been walking around there like that for the last couple of months" after putting into a bunker at Muirfield. On the other, flat denials that any of his troubles might be psychological.

We can but hope, then, that yesterday will signal at least the start of the process of clearing his head. His second management change in two years speaks of off-course flux and turmoil that have to be incompatible with high achievement.

As such, it is surely welcome that his father now has formal status in the new management team. Right now, McIlroy seems a kid in need of reminding that it's okay to be human, to err, to be less than someone else's billboard fantasy.

And maybe that's the ultimate perversion of his talent now. For all the wealth, glory and celebrity, golf has taken more from Rory McIlroy than it has given.

That much needs to change.

Irish Independent

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