Wednesday 7 December 2016

Sinead Kissane: Straight-shooting McIlroy doesn't need to play to the gallery to grow the game of golf

Published 16/07/2016 | 02:30

Rory McIlroy has learned the price of telling the truth. Photo: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Rory McIlroy has learned the price of telling the truth. Photo: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

The advertising department at Nike must be pretty p****d off with Rory McIlroy right now. Why, they may wonder, did McIlroy waste controversial sound-bites at a silly press conference rather than wait for Nike to package and compress his outspoken views into a neat little commercial.

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They may have dreamt of doing a Charles Barkley with McIlroy. In the 1990s Nike released an ad with Sir Charles who was paid to say lines which questioned society's automatic decision to label anyone who is half-decent at sport as a role-model.

"I am not a role model," Barkley pronounced. "I'm not paid to be a role model. I am paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court. Parents should be role models. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn't mean I should raise your kids."

The ad sparked the kind of debate Nike knew it would.

McIlroy's quotes this week about golf and his role in it would fit perfectly into any advert Nike had in mind to question our preconceived expectations and demands of sports stars. But McIlroy doesn't need the framework of an advert or need to be scripted to within an inch of his swoosh label to express his opinion.

"I don't feel like I've let the game down at all," McIlroy said on Tuesday when asked about pulling out of the Rio Olympics. "I didn't get into golf to try and grow the game. I got into golf to win championships and win Major championships, and all of a sudden you get to this point and there is a responsibility on you to grow the game, and I get that. But at the same time that's not the reason I got into golf. I got into golf to win. I didn't get into golf to get other people into the game."

Along with his "I'll probably watch the Olympics, but I'm not sure golf will be one of the events" remark, his words shocked enough to probably even grab the attention of the most obsessed Pokémon Go followers.

McIlroy's words didn't go down well because they don't comply with the majority view.

"I think his comments are unacceptable. It's a lack of appreciation for how the Olympics can just transcend an individual sport," British squash player Laura Massaro told the BBC in response to McIlroy's views.

"I think part of being a professional athlete is also to grow the game and be a role model for young people watching on TV, and the Olympics is the perfect opportunity to do that."

It's easy to appreciate Massaro's frustration because squash wasn't included in the Olympics. But what exactly do we want from McIlroy? He gives us honesty, but that's now classified as disrespectful and unacceptable by some.

He's called selfish for his comments yet we appreciate and admire his tunnel-vision on the course. He gives us the truth about how he feels about the Olympics, but that's now come too late for some. His remark that he may not even watch his own sport in Rio was sloppy and, undoubtedly, hurtful to his colleagues who will compete in Rio.

But the fact that he doesn't place golf in the same category as more traditional Olympic sports shouldn't be so hard to understand.

And it shouldn't be McIlroy's responsibility to grow the game.

As John Daly told Sky Sports: "He grows the game whether he knows it or not". After writing a few weeks ago that the Olympics should only be for sports which regard the Games as its pinnacle, I, for one, am glad to see McIlroy no longer playing along with the charade that the Olympics are important in his career.

Sure, no individual should be bigger than the sport or its future. But also, stars like McIlroy shouldn't be vilified for not feeling the same way as most other sports people do about the Olympics.

Perhaps golf and the Olympics wouldn't be in this mess if the opinions of golfers had been sought before any decision was made to squeeze golf in, because according to McIlroy, they weren't. "As a collective group of professionals we weren't approached or asked if it was what we wanted," he said.

McIlroy grows the sport by trying to be the best golfer in the world every time he plays in a tournament. Is this not enough?

You watch McIlroy to see how he handles the pressure on any given Sunday, to see his drive, to see if he can pull-back the focus after a crap hole, to see that bit of chipping magic, to see how he does it when everyone is watching.

But above all, we watch McIlroy to see if he can win the Majors that mean the most to him. This is what he gives the game of golf.

Before you accuse McIlroy of not playing his part in growing the game, go to a tournament and see how young kids respond to him.

The reaction from American kids when McIlroy finished his practise round the day before the Players Championship in Sawgrass in May was on a level I have never seen before for an Irish sports star.

Sure, this is middle-class America, what do you expect. But seeing girls and boys of all ages run outside the ropes and roaring "Rorreeee" just to grab a second of his attention and an autograph would leave you in no doubt about the influence and impact of McIlroy.

It may also be a good time to remind ourselves of how McIlroy donated his prizemoney from his win at the recent Irish Open - a tournament he has helped rejuvenate through the The Rory Foundation - to local children's charities, Barretstown, the Jack and Jill Foundation and the Laura Lynn Children's Hospice.

"I'm an ambassador for the PGA Junior League, I do some stuff for the First Tees in the States, and I feel like I've used my success in a very positive way in the community," McIlroy said on Thursday.

And yet, he gets grief for not playing golf in the Olympics and accused of not growing the game.

Watching sports stars compete in events that they believe in with utter conviction is the best kind of promotion for any sport and an athlete's best kind of legacy whether that's Katie Taylor at the Olympics or Rory McIlroy at The Open.

It's not all about playing to the gallery.

"Look it's my opinion," McIlroy said this week. "But I've spent seven years trying to please everyone, and I figured out that I can't really do that, so I may as well be true to myself".

Nike couldn't have put it better if they tried.

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