Thursday 24 May 2018

McIlroy's sorry to fans but no regrets over Trump round

Rory McIlroy plays a chip during a practice round yesterday ahead of the Mexico Championship. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy plays a chip during a practice round yesterday ahead of the Mexico Championship. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

James Corrigan

Rory McIlroy apologised "to anyone I p****d off" for playing with President Donald Trump, but maintained that it was a chance he was simply not going to turn down.

Still, the issue has clouded his return to competitive action after a seven-week absence with a fractured rib.

McIlroy's mind should have been dominated by the build-up to the WGC Mexico Championship as he tries to gain match fitness for the Masters in six weeks' time, but instead he has felt forced to respond to the critics who think he should not have given Trump his company for 18 holes a week ago last Saturday.

The outrage on social media was such that McIlroy released a statement last Friday saying the claims that he was a "fascist and a bigot" were "quite ridiculous" and that "playing a round of golf" was not "a political statement" or an "endorsement".


The 27-year-old was in a more conciliatory mood when entering the media centre at the Club de Golf Chapultepec, but his message was the same: "I have no regrets."

"I was a little taken aback (with the reaction), although we all know how the campaign went and how divisive it was," McIlroy said.

"I just approached it as a round of golf. And to go there and see 30 secret service and 30 cops and snipers in the trees… well, it was just a surreal experience for me. That was part of the reason I wanted to go and play.

"If it had been President Obama, I would have played. I've played with President Clinton, I've spent time with President Bush.

"I just wanted to have an experience that I might not ever get again - playing golf with a sitting president. And I actually enjoyed myself and had a good time.

"I'm sorry if I p****d people off, but I felt I was in a position where I couldn't really do anything but say yes, respect the office even if you don't respect the guy that's in it."

McIlroy also revealed that he shared lunch with Tiger Woods, the stricken 14-time Major winner, last week.

As Woods still struggles to relaunch his career because of crippling back problems, McIlroy told himself that his own situation could be that much more worse.

But then, it has been difficult for McIlroy since the scan revealed the full extent on his injury after his first outing of the season at the South African Open.

As he patiently went through his rehab, he had to see the likes of Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama and Rickie Fowler all win tournaments.

These are his peers, the class against which he is measured and he could not help but feel on the outside. "It was tough watching them all win while I couldn't get out there," he said.

A win this week is maybe too much to expect - particularly as he is still wearing protective strapping - but if he was to prevail here on Sunday and Johnson was to finish outside the top three then McIlroy would reclaim the top spot in the rankings.

McIlroy, however, is thinking longer term. "I've played two tournaments in 17 weeks so it's good that I get to play four rounds here, see where my game is and then from there I can start to think about the Masters," he said.

Meanwhile, the R&A and the USGA, golf's two governing bodies, will today announce the first amendments in the highly anticipated modernisation of the rulebook.

They include cutting the time allotted to find a ball from five minutes to three and allowing spike marks to be repaired on greens.

The R&A and USGA hope to bring the rules into effect on January 1, 2019.

Players will also be permitted to drop a ball from any height when taking relief rather than the current stipulation of shoulder height and the use of club lengths for taking relief will be eliminated.

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