Saturday 20 July 2019

Time for Rory to let golf do his talking

Rory McIlroy reacts after missing a putt at Wentworth yesterday. Photo: by Ian Walton/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy reacts after missing a putt at Wentworth yesterday. Photo: by Ian Walton/Getty Images
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Does nobody in Rory McIlroy's entourage feel inclined to tell him the world's not going to spit and jeer if he utters the words "no comment"?

Anybody in the locker-room even? The awkwardness of Wentworth this week felt more like cheap reality TV than professional sport.

Why? Must there always be a PR strategy in Rory's life when the public, ultimately, just wants to see him golf?

His candour might be a gift from the Gods to journalism, but it is one we have no right to seek.

Here's the thing. Rory is 25, which means he no longer qualifies to be referenced as 'a kid'.

He is in or around an age most young men are making or breaking pretty tumultuous personal decisions in their lives. Yet, this week, you could be forgiven mistaking him for a lost child in some thronged GAA stadium.

"Fogra, would the parents of ... ."

Twitter has undeniably become a part of the problem. McIlroy has almost two million followers and, up to a few weeks back, was still tweeting regular snapshots of a private life that, from the outside looking in, spoke of some perfect, gilded existence.


At some point, his union with Caroline Wozniacki seemed, thus, to become a brand (with the self-created nickname 'Wozzilroy') rather than an adult relationship.

This was harmlessly juvenile, a little cringe-inducing maybe, but the kind of stuff you might forgive love-struck teenagers.

Except that is for the oddly jarring juxtaposition of all this sugar-coated fantasy sat next to the smoking trail of controversies, the sacked management companies, the needless Olympics row, the course walk-off at last year's Honda Classic, the sense of a young man who would happily strike a match to check on the smell of gas.

He does, it should be said, come across as palpably courteous and pleasant under the klieg lights of celebrity, a small galaxy removed from the spitting, club-throwing, semi-sociopathic figure that Tiger Woods became. But that's not a comparison he needs to be making.

When Woods was 20, his father Earl bragged about how his son was "as at ease with the media as he is over a two-foot putt!".

Earl himself had worked for a time as press information officer to the US Army at Fort Hamilton in New York. This, he seemed to believe, equated to having a doctorate in honesty.

"I tell Tiger always tell the truth and just answer the question asked," he said.

Oddly, his son would make a small science out of doing the polar opposite.

True, it can't be easy finding space for a healthy private life in such a profoundly public existence, but it helps if the people around you are neither ambivalent towards that challenge, or haplessly unquestioning of how you deal with it.

This week somebody considered it wise to issue a statement from McIlroy decreeing the cancellation of his wedding plans to be "mutual and amicable", whilst attaching an immediately contradictory addendum that "the problem is mine".

It also declared that he would not be making any further statement on the matter, a declaration instantly revoked by his decision to visit the media tent at Wentworth.

In some ways, this captured Rory's story in perfect microcosm. Ham-fisted media strategy deployed where none should ever really have been needed in the first place.

McIlroy decided he wasn't ready for marriage this week, not the other way round. In other words, he wasn't the one left reeling by somebody else's decision.

Yet, Wentworth found itself all but reduced to a set from 'The Waltons', locker-room colleagues bizarrely engaging with the circus when they should simply have declared the subject none of their business.

He is such a naturally gifted golfer, the assumption has long been that, when in the groove, McIlroy could win tournaments wearing top-hat and tails.

Yet, there are new pin-ups rising. Jordan Speith, who sits just above him in the world rankings and made such a stirring bid for glory at Augusta, is five years his junior. The public wants nothing more from Rory than to meet that kind of challenge.

Instead, it gets recurring soap opera. Is there nobody to shout stop?


Rangers' demise plays role in Lennon's decison to quit

It's surely the most striking irony of Neil Lennon's departure from Celtic this week that the financial calamities suffered by Rangers had a fundamental role to play.

With the Old Firm rivalry indefinitely decommissioned, Scotland's Premiership has shed even the illusion of authentic competition.

Celtic won this season's title by 29 points with a goal difference of plus 77, compared to second-placed Motherwell's plus four.

In other words, the league was about as competitive as a crocodile attack on a puppy.

Without Rangers in their faces, Celtic's existence has never seemed less urgent, less relevant.

Worse, the board clearly realise they can sell marketable players (like Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama) without any significant impediment to their chances of stockpiling titles.

This, for Lennon (left), was wretchedly bad news. He has shown himself to be a bright, tactically astute manager, particularly in the environment of Champions League football.

Yet the Celtic board clearly believes it would be financially imprudent to the point of daftness to pursue anything beyond habitual qualification for that competition.

Lennon's natural ambition, thus, was always destined to become a point of conflict with his employers.

He wanted to strengthen a squad that the board recognised was already strong enough to be deemed certainties for next season's Premiership title and, quite probably, the one beyond.

Without Rangers, Celtic essentially lost the will to grow.

Lennon came to understand that. He left because to stay would have been professional surrender.


Kilmacud Crokes get on their bikes for charity

Doug Ibbotson, an American sportswriter, once described the experience of sitting on a racing bike as "slightly less comfortable than sitting astride a meat cleaver."

So, spare a thought for the 34 members of Kilmacud Crokes GAA club, who next week embark upon the kind of gruelling charity cycle that would give Yaya Toure a nosebleed.

The Malin to Mizen Head challenge includes next Saturday's monster 160km penultimate stage from Lahinch to Kenmare, when that meat cleaver analogy will, no doubt, seem entirely apt.

Those participating come in all shapes and sizes, with the money being raised to be shared evenly between Crokes and Breast Cancer Ireland.

If you would like to contribute details are available on the Kilmacud Crokes website.

Irish Independent

The Throw-In: Kerry back to their best, Connolly’s return and Cork’s baffling inconsistency

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport