Sunday 26 January 2020

Rory McIlroy faces up to the perils of greatness

Illustration: Jim Cogan
Illustration: Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

They were on Tiger's case again last weekend at the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio. He had asked the gallery to "give me some fucking space", and immediately the TV presenters were fretting and apologising and wondering wearily why he has to bring such profanity to this great game of theirs.

Leaving aside the small detail that some of these commentators wouldn't be there at all if Tiger hadn't brought his genius to their world, nor indeed would there be crowds on the golf course for him to berate, no doubt they will now be applying their minds with equal rigour to golf's other unsavoury traditions such as racism, sexism, class prejudice and corporate entertainment.

We'll look forward to that, as they are looking forward to the more amiable kind of magnificence offered by Rory McIlroy - last weekend also brought us a kind of official declaration that Rory is now the great one, and will hold that position for a long time, while Tiger is only as great as his bad back will allow. 
Ah, the back, the curse of so many men who would have seen Tiger limping through the car park last Sunday, trying to figure out some way of getting into his car without doing any more damage to his bulging discs, and who would have deeply empathised.

He is now just like them, with words like sciatica and lumbago starting to enter the conversation, words that they used to think 
were confined to the
distant realm of geriatric care.

Ah, the back - as Tiger spoke confidently of his readiness to play, just a few months after surgery, many men would have known that he was in a dangerous place, that one of the tormenting things about the back, when it goes wrong, is its terrible unpredictability.

One bad move, however innocuous, be it leaning down to take a plate out of the dishwasher, or slightly mis-judging your step off a pavement, and it's gone. Tiger found himself with an awkward stance at the top of a bunker, for him perhaps the equivalent of taking a plate out of a slightly awkward part of the dishwasher, and when he had played the shot, and scrambled back down the face of the sand-trap, it was gone.

And when he finally managed to lower himself into his car, to be driven off for treatment, again a million other men would have known that one of the peculiar agonies of the bad back is that for every piece of advice you get, there will be other advice suggesting precisely the opposite.

Treat it with ice, treat it with heat....which of these ?

So this most mundane of disabilities is at times bringing him down to the level of the multitudes, who last week were offered odds on whether Tiger would make or miss the cut in the PGA Championship at Valhalla - time was, only an utter fool would even jokingly suggest that Tiger might conceivably miss the cut.

Rory McIlroy too will have been struck by the nature of Tiger's misfortune, by that abysmal image of the power utterly drained from the man by another malfunction in the lower back.

For Rory, will it end in some car-park too, waiting for assistance? Does that question even enter his consciousness, as he drives it 330 yards down the middle at Valhalla?

Certainly as a devoted admirer of Tiger's, he knows that he is faced with the intriguing challenge of emulating Tiger's greatness, while somehow not making the mistakes that Tiger has made.

Chief among these, was Tiger's disastrous decision to get married, a move which some of us knew at the time was wrong for him, and wrote of our misgivings. And this was before we realised the extraordinary extent of his activities with the "cocktail waitresses" of the United States, before the emergence of tales of vast promiscuity which of course had coincided with his most glorious period on the track.

We just felt at the time that the search for "balance" in his life could not end well. And ultimately it also led to another significant mistake, when he publicly apologised to all sorts of people to whom he owed no apology at all, who should have been told to bugger off and mind their own affairs.

I'm sure that the stress of all these events, along with Tiger's own sense that he had made the wrong decisions in this thing we call "life", contributed in some way to his bad back.

Interestingly, Rory's decision not to get married after all, seems to have coincided with a new surge of excellence on the track, a sequence of events from which he will draw some wisdom.

He is wise already in many ways, skipping with the sure-footedness of an acrobat through all the eejitry of the nationalistic flag-wavers who assail him. For all the corporate eejitry which he encounters, he has lawyers.

He seems free of cocaine, and booze, and he doesn't even curse loudly. Like 
Tiger, he spends time in the gym, but, he insists, not too much.

Having escaped it once, at some point he may again feel a need for that "balance". But it seems that the gods do not favour such normal ambitions on the part of those who are supremely gifted.

Even at their kindest, the gods always withhold something.

Sunday Independent

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