Saturday 20 January 2018

McIlroy hops on board the gravy train

Rory McIlroy at
the Port Royal
Golf club in
Bermuda where
he was playing in
the PGA Grand
Slam of Golf
Rory McIlroy at the Port Royal Golf club in Bermuda where he was playing in the PGA Grand Slam of Golf

Oliver Brown

Turquoise waters, the faint hint of citrus in the air, and as many rum swizzles as you can sling down your neck. Far from being the claims of a Caribbean holiday brochure, these are elements of the exotica that lured Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke to Bermuda this week for the PGA Grand Slam of Golf.

Or, to give the 'Major champions only' event its unofficial billing: "The world's most exclusive foursome."

Those of more dispassionate disposition might simply call it a glorified skins game.

Once, a 'Grand Slam' referred to that mythical accomplishment, still elusive in the modern era, of winning all four major championships in a single season. Now, it is just a hollow marketing sobriquet for a hit-and-giggle in the Atlantic Ocean.

The US PGA claims that the tournament boasts a noble tradition, given that it has been staged, off and on, since 1979.

But for McIlroy and Clarke, not to mention fellow Major holders Charl Schwartzel and Keegan Bradley, it signals little beyond another heavily pampered few days in paradise.

McIlroy, in particular, seems to be embarking on a one-man 'wheelbarrow tour' this autumn.

His stop at the Port Royal course, perched upon the jagged coastline of Bermuda's Hog Bay, marked merely stage nine in his exhausting pursuit of a giant flashing dollar sign.

Indeed, to be this young man's travel fixer is as much a full-time job as sifting through his pay cheques. In the last three weeks, he has swung through the Woo Jeong Hills of Korea and enjoyed a seven-day odyssey around China, dashing everywhere from Beijing to Chongqing by private jet.


No wonder that, in Santander, he finds his latest million-pound sponsor in a bank.

His Chinese shuttle run, in the company of Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood, took the tastelessness of golfing indulgence to extremes. To sing for their suppers, these three were required to do no more than play three holes a day to satisfy promoters of the China Golf Challenge.

To the natives of host cities like Zhengzhou, where the average annual wage of local miners is 13,000 yuan (€1,483), or Dongguan, where factory girls are known to have been housed in dormitories, it hardly constituted a full week's work.

Given that Poulter spent much of the time making a video diary of himself eating noodles, it looked less like a serious sports enterprise than the ultimate stag do.

From Poulter, we expect as much. Here is a man whose notion of sensitive engagement with his public is to post the view from his Bahamas villa on Twitter.

From McIlroy, however, it is a touch more troubling. At his level of exposure and influence, a certain amount of responsibility is expected.

Not for nothing did he become, earlier this year, an ambassador for Unicef. In that capacity, he encountered a rather different side to life from palm-fringed Bermudan beaches by visiting the earthquake victims in Haiti.

The sight of the shattered streets of Port-au-Prince had, he claimed at the US Open, transformed his perspective on life. But humility is difficult to maintain in the bubble he inhabits at this time of year.

Indeed, McIlroy's schedule until December is determined -- to a significant extent -- by the persuasion of promoters; hence his bookings for next week's Shanghai Masters, or for the Thailand Golf Championship in Bangkok.

None of this is intrinsically wrong, of course. Ernie Els used positively to revel in the riches, even introducing the concept of the 'wheelbarrow'. "At the end of the year, you want to cash in a bit," he admitted.

The corollary is that golfers' priorities become skewed as a consequence.

Upon the death of Seve Ballesteros, McIlroy was as generous as any in tribute, writing: "Seve is and always will be what is great about the game of golf. A true legend in every way."

And yet when it came to honouring the late Spaniard's legacy by competing in last month's Vivendi Seve Trophy, the Ulsterman ducked out, explaining he was too busy preparing for his 12-week jaunt across the Far East. It was a sure sign of financial incentives distorting golf's more noble purpose.

Luke Donald, the sport's world No 1, betrays symptoms of the same malaise.

The caricature of Donald as a "walking ATM machine" -- thank CBS pundit David Feherty for that one -- appears uncannily accurate when you consider that the sole interest in this week's Disney Classic in Florida is whether the Englishman can beat Webb Simpson to finish top of the US money list.

At a time of unprecedented financial squeeze, how much interest are punters supposed to muster at the prospect of one very rich man feathering his nest further? At least the backdrop of the world's most famous theme park is apt for so Mickey Mouse a plotline.

•For the record, Keegan Bradley wrapped-up the $600,000 first prize on four-under with a level-par 71 at Port Royal yesterday.

McIlroy, who shared the lead with Bradley overnight and was ahead by three with 12 to play, slumped into third on even par (worth $250,000) after a closing 75, which didn't include a solitary birdie.

Schwartzel recorded five birdies in a row to the turn on his way to a 65 and second place on three-under (worth $300,000).

A distant fourth on nine-over after yesterday's 74, Clarke still tipped $200,000 into his wheelbarrow. (© Daily Telegaph, London)

Irish Independent

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