Tuesday 23 July 2019

Comment: Begrudgers will now pursue Rory McIlroy worse than any Zika-carrying mosquito

Rory McIlroy at the Parc Des Princes last night as he cheered on Northern Ireland
Rory McIlroy at the Parc Des Princes last night as he cheered on Northern Ireland

Roy Curtis, Sunday World chief sports writer

THE Zika virus is no longer the infectious agent that will most persistently pursue Rory McIlroy.

McIlroy – having opted, after weeks of wavering, to quench his own Olympic flame – will, inevitably, be trailed by a germ for which there is no known antidote and which is more bloodthirsty than any South American mosquito.

The bacteria of the begrudging class.

Essentially, the world’s number four golfer will be accused of Brexit:  British Rory’s Exit.

That there is sound medical logic for his stated reasons for not travelling to Rio – fears about the Zika virus and how it might impact on his plans to start a family with his fiancée, Erica Stoll – will hardly diminish the more rabid denunciations.

Nor will the undeniable truth that golf in the Olympics is a clunky, doomed concept, that for men like McIlroy with an acute sense of the game’s history, a gold medal can never be remotely as precious as a Green Jacket or a Claret Jug

That the golfer – from Holywood, Co Down - has always been reluctant to wrap himself in the tricolour is self-evident.

On Tuesday afternoon, he sat transfixed in the Parc Des Princes, an image of George Best on his tee-shirt.  Just another 27-year-old cheering on his team at the Euros.

That his team is Northern Ireland – an entirely natural consequence of birth - seems to rankle those who wield their green white and orange inflatables with such enthusiasm.

And so, any contentious decision McIlroy makes is inevitably framed by fevered conversations about identity and loyalty.

Unlike, say, Padraig Harrington or Shane Lowry or Paul McGinley – all one time Gaelic football players comfortable with Amhran na bhFiann as a soundtrack to their sporting lives - Rory confounds the one-size-fits-all template of “Irishness”.

When in Belfast, Ravenhill - where “Stand Up for the Ulstermen” is the lusty cry of the largely protestant rugby classes - rather than Casement Park is his natural habitat.

But, even if his cultural background – four years ago he admitted he always felt “more British than Irish” and for a long time it seemed Rio hung like a Sword of Damocles over his person - influenced today’s Olympics call, and there is no evidence it did, that is hardly an outrage.

Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen and Vijay Singh – major winners all – are among the vanguard of golfers who have opted not to compete at the Olympics.

Their absence has drawn no more attention than a journeyman golfer shooting a level par first round at a low-key event on some anonymous satellite tour.

McIlroy’s announcement will, however, be front page news. And, almost immediately, the sniping will follow.

A month ago, McIlroy both hosted and won the Irish Open.

What caught the eye most was not even his inherent decency in donating a E666,000 cheque to charity, bringing to over a million the sum raised that week by his foundation for Barretstown, the Jack & Jill Foundation and LauraLynn Children’s Hospice.

It was McIlroy’s evident emotion at winning his national Open.  Tears welled in his eyes as he walked up the K Club’s manicured 18th fairway, the enormity of the moment dazing a giant of the game, a four-time major winner.

Before slinging their pernicious arrows in his direction, Rory’s more strident critics might review that footage.

Maybe then, the angry mosquito-buzz of our forever agitated patriots might at last abate.

Online Editors

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