Tuesday 21 November 2017

'I like to do things my way, I'm pretty stubborn' - Rory McIlroy

What possessed Rory McIlroy to engage in a battle it seemed he had little chance of winning

Dermot Gilleece

Prior to signing his lucrative deal with Nike at the end of 2012, Rory McIlroy amassed an estimated $22.58m in earnings on and off the golf course for that year alone. Against this background, the reported $25m settlement he made with Horizon Sports last week is hardly likely to cause him undue hardship.

Yet it remains a staggering deal, not least for the fact that the 25-year-old was the plaintiff in the case. What, we may ask, could have possessed him to engage in a battle he seemed to have little chance of winning. And why did it go to the steps of the court before a settlement was reached?

The answer may lie in an admission he made to me a couple of years ago. "I like to do things my way," he said. "I'm pretty stubborn."

This wilful nature was very much in evidence when he missed the half-way cut in the 2013 British Open at Muirfield. Though his confidence was at the lowest ebb of his professional career up to that point, he publicly declined to ask the distinguished American sports psychologist, Dr Bob Rotella, for help even when assured there would be a welcome ear.

In this context, it is necessary to remind oneself of the very special nature of McIlroy's talents, going back to 1999 when, as a diminutive nine-year-old, he pitched golf-balls into the drum of a washing machine in front of a live audience on the Gerry Kelly Show on UTV. In common with most extravagantly-gifted people, he is different, even special, in how he relates to society at large. Yet he remains one of the most likeable among the world's leading sportsmen. Padraig Harrington has not forgotten how Rory babysat his four-year-old son, Paddy, at Carnoustie in 2007, while the Dubliner was contesting the Open play-off with Sergio Garcia.

"Every time you meet Rory, he keeps exceeding your expectations, over and over," said Harrington. "You're waiting for him to act like he's a top player; you're waiting for him to change, but he doesn't, except maybe to become even better as a person."

In his battle with Horizon, doing things Rory's way ultimately meant deciding not to allow the case intrude further into his tournament activities. It had already cost him appearances in two end-of-season tournaments in China three months ago, followed by a fairly thin start to this year in which the Honda Classic on February 26 will follow last Sunday's win in Dubai.

When the judge sanctioned two adjournments in the case on its opening day last Tuesday, a settlement was clearly in the air. And while peace was formally declared when the court reconvened at 11am on Wednesday, McIlroy was already at Dublin Airport for a private flight to the US.

From his early experiences of life on tour with the Manchester-based International Management Group (ISM), he had set his sights on determining his own destiny. This was at the root of his break with ISM's Chubby Chandler in October 2011 and his subsequent move to Horizon Sports where his friend and Ryder Cup partner, Graeme McDowell, was a leading client.

Then came a further change of perspective with his elevation to world number one and the signing of a $100m five-year deal with Nike. Such staggering earning capacity made it all the more essential that he take total control of his own affairs which he ­ultimately did, in setting up his own management company.

Now, with a settlement behind him of all elements of his ill-fated contract with Horizon, he is aiming to become the first European winner of the career Grand Slam of golf. Victory in the US Masters at Augusta National in early April would make him only the sixth player in history to secure the game's four Major championships.

My first sight of McIlroy was of a 13-year-old with a cherubic face beneath an unruly mop of hair, standing on the tee of the short seventh at Portmarnock Golf Club. "OK Rory," said Darren Clarke at the launch of his Foundation weekend, "show us what you've got."

The response was a beautifully struck shot to within eight feet of the pin. Whereupon, Clarke remarked with a grin: "Look out for this kid."

McIlroy's countless admirers will be doing just that, in the belief that the best has yet to come.

Sunday Independent

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