Expecting McIlroy to stand up to Trump is just not fair
Outrage over a round of golf is so unnecessary, says James Corrigan
If it were not for a reserve goalkeeper and a pie filled with either sanctimony or moral peril, depending on your viewpoint, then the most bizarre sporting tale of the week would surely be the outrage that greeted Rory McIlroy's acceptance of an invitation from the President of the United States.
McIlroy did not accompany Donald Trump to lay the first brick in a wall. He did not join him on a visit to an airport to help ensure no Muslims were allowed into the country, nor collude in clandestine missives with Russia. He did not enter into a debate about sexual equality or anti-Semitism.
No, McIlroy is a professional golfer and he did with Trump what he is asked to do by so many important people - he played golf with him.
In doing so, the detractors claimed that he legitimised Trump and his controversial opinions. Letters were sent to the Irish Times and much-respected journalist Lawrence Donegan went on Irish radio accusing this very modern young man of reinforcing golf's old stereotypes. On social media, the backlash was predictably foul-mouthed.
For the last few days, McIlroy has been in the dock. The Donald dock, if you like.
But imagine if he had dismissed the request. Imagine if he had said 'nah, don't fancy it', or even offered the excuse that his rib injury was not yet recovered.
The story would have come out and he would be cast into the middle of a frenzy. McIlroy would have been depicted as a hero by one side and a disrespectful, luvvie snowflake by the other.
He would have shown up at his comeback event next week as the focal point of the media, who would not be interested merely in his sporting fitness after two months on the sidelines, but on his political views and his new status as celebrity objector.
And the venue would have made McIlroy's Trump inquest yet more resonant. The World Golf Championships event next week is taking place in Mexico City, having last year been moved from Trump Doral in Miami.
All this might have gone through McIlroy's mind when the call came.
He might well have concluded that as Tiger Woods had played with Trump a few months earlier and emerged pretty much wrath-free, then this would be the course of least hassle.
Or maybe he did not believe it required any thought at all, as Trump is the President and it is not McIlroy who legitimised him, but 63 million US citizens.
Maybe he decided it was far less political to play with Trump than to not play with him.
What he certainly would not have wasted too much time doing was calculating how this would hurt the growth of the game. He has railed against that notion, and since opening up in his infamous interview at the Open last year has made it clear that he does not crave the tag of golfing missionary.
He emphasised why in a recent interview with the Sunday Independent.
"I hate that term 'growing the game'," he said.
"Do you ever hear that in other sports? In tennis? Football? 'Let's grow the game.' I mean, golf was here long before we were, and it'll be here long after we're gone."
Long after McIlroy is gone they will be talking about his positive effect on the sport, on that incredibly gracious swing which launches the ball obscene distances for a 5ft 9-incher, for his equally natural, bubbly and infectious manner which has enticed so many kids to the fairways.
McIlroy is making his mark, and will continue to do so, by his sporting prowess and his character, not by his beliefs or ethics.
To expect him to stand up to Trump is not fair. McIlroy did what he had to do. He played golf with the President. (© Daily Telegraph, London)