Tuesday 20 February 2018

How McIlroy is determined to write his place in history

Golfer's legal battle won't shift focus from his date with destiny at the US Masters

Rory McIlroy now has his sights firmly set on completing his Grand Slam with the Masters and firmly believes he has the ability to win a Green Jacket at Augusta next year. Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy now has his sights firmly set on completing his Grand Slam with the Masters and firmly believes he has the ability to win a Green Jacket at Augusta next year. Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Karl McGinty

'HELLO boys!' Rory McIlroy smiled as he bade a chipper good morning to the gaggle of golf writers waiting to enter Court No 1.

Wearing glasses, a formal dark blue suit and brown shoes, there was nary a Nike swoosh in sight as the world's No 1 golfer breezed through the grand hall of Dublin's Four Courts.

If McIlroy felt any sense of foreboding about the trial that lay ahead, he hid it well … as he's done in recent months on the global golf circuit.

Especially as he strolled to a truly facile victory in last Sunday's Dubai Desert Classic, it's been abundantly clear that even his involvement in the greatest legal battle in Irish sporting history will not shift McIlroy's focus one iota from April's date with destiny at the US Masters.

Mr Paul Gallagher SC, leading for McIlroy, told Mr Justice Cregan as he sought the second of three deferments to proceedings yesterday that "both parties" were "making progress" with out of court discussions, fuelling hope that a settlement may be reached by this morning's resumption.

Naturally, this would spare McIlroy potentially the most discommoding consequence of taking the witness stand in the Commercial Court.

Otherwise, it's difficult to imagine the experience being any more stressful to one of the world's most accomplished golfers than playing the most fraught shot in golf, on the first tee on Friday at The Ryder Cup.

Or any more challenging than racing down the stretch at Valhalla last August to beat Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and fading daylight on his way to a fourth Major Championship victory at the US PGA Championship.

Or any more traumatic than his Sunday implosion around Amen Corner in the 2011 Masters at Augusta, an experience which helped inspire McIlroy to a record-shattering first Major win just 70 days later in the US Open at Congressional.

With E39,125,362 in prizemoney and tour bonuses banked on the golf course since he turned professional in October 2007 and nearly twice as much again in sponsorship, endorsements and appearance fees, money no longer is of primary consequence to McIlroy.

The Holywood's native, without question the successor to Tiger Woods and the most marketable and exciting player in golf, is expected to earn more than 500 million Euro, that's half a billion, over the next 20 years.

Of paramount importance to McIlroy is establishing a place in history worthy of his outrageous talent.

Though he described this 18 months legal wrangle as "tedious" and "nasty" last week in Dubai, McIlroy was never going to let it unduly impeded his opportunity at April's Masters to become only the sixth golfer in history to win all four of the sport's Major Championships and complete the so-called 'Career Grand Slam'

Even if he is required to spend six or more days in the witness box over the next fortnight, after winning in Dubai, McIlroy easily can afford himself a little time away from the practice ground or golf course.

Though the proceedings were initially expected to last up to eight weeks, McIlroy intended to return to his home in West Palm Beach in Florida as soon as his own cross-examination was complete and begin girding himself for his next tournament, the US Tour's Honda Classic.

Though he consulted very briefly with world-famous sports psychologist Dr Bob Rotella early in his professional career, McIlroy's as strong mentally as Tiger and never has felt the need for mental support on or off the course.

He has simply worked through any of the crises in his career, and there have been a few, most infamously his decision to walk off the golf course less than halfway through the Honda Classic two years ago.

All but two of the closest and longest-serving members of McIlroy's tight inner-circle were with him at the Four Courts yesterday.

On his right in Court No 1 was Sean O'Flaherty, his on-tour manager and 'Chief of Staff' at Rory McIlroy Inc, the company the golfer set-up to take care of his affairs early in the summer of 2013 in the wake of his shock departure from Horizon that April.

On the other side was Barry Funston, a prominent businessman and close family friend from Holywood, Co Down, who is in charge of McIlroy's Charitable Foundation.

Also there was RMI Donal Casey, a former director/consultant at Horizon who left the Dublin management company after falling out with Conor Ridge over elements of the $100m Nike deal he helped negotiate on McIlroy's behalf, and McIlroy's uncle Brian, another highly-significant figure in the golfer's backroom team.

McIlroy will next work with coach Michael Bannon in West Palm Beach. Since boyhood, McIlroy has relied on this modest Antrim native to help him develop "a swing for life", something Tiger and golf's other superstars must envy.

Caddie JP Fitzgerald, a Dubliner who has walked the fairways with him since 2008, and, of course, and the golfer's parents Gerry and Rosemary, also high-profile members of Team McIlroy, were not in court.

McIlroy relies on this tight-knit group to keep him firmly on course for a place in history as one of the world's greatest ever golfers.

Irish Independent

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