Sport Golf

Thursday 23 November 2017

Off-course issues are distraction – McIlroy

Holywood native admits courtroom battles have been factor in dizzying downward spiral

Rory McIlroy is preparing to defend his DP Wold Tour Championship title in Dubai
Rory McIlroy is preparing to defend his DP Wold Tour Championship title in Dubai

Karl MacGinty

JOHN GRISHAM himself would be hard pressed to dream up a courtroom drama with as many tangled twists and turns, so it came as little surprise when Rory McIlroy admitted that all the legal action has affected his performance on the course.

Speaking for the first time about the stormy backdrop to a frustrating season, McIlroy yesterday revealed that he had "seen more lawyers' offices and lawyers this year than I care to see in my life."

The 24-year-old last month took his former agents at Horizon Sports Management to the Commercial Court in Dublin and, along with a vigorous defence, the Dublin firm will launch a counter-suit at the Four Courts next Tuesday week.

Meanwhile, McIlroy spent much of this year (and $1m-plus, allegedly) fighting an action taken in the California District Court by former sponsor Oakley.

Ironically, Horizon chief Conor Ridge, one of those being sued by McIlroy in Dublin, is the key witness for the Ulsterman in Los Angeles as he strongly disputes Oakley's claim they were not given adequate "right of first refusal" before he signed a $20m-per-annum deal with Nike.

Speaking in Dubai, where tomorrow he launches the defence of his DP World Tour Championship title, McIlroy said he looked forward to the day when he can concentrate solely on golf again.

"For sure," he nodded. "I've obviously got people to handle that sort of stuff for me and I only see a fraction of it, the stuff I really want to see.

"But it's something that shouldn't be in my mind, something I don't really think any athlete or anyone should ever go through. It's not something I ever want to go through again and I'm making sure I won't ever go through it again."

Asked whether events off the course affected his performance and if that was the case at the Honda Classic in March, when he walked off the course and out of the tournament after completing just 27 holes, McIlroy replied: "Could be, yeah.

"I mean, there's no specific time where I hit a bad shot because I was thinking of this. But as a golfer, you want your mind as clear as possible.

PINNACLE

"It's hard for that to happen if other things are going on that, firstly, you don't want to happen and, secondly, you don't feel should be happening.

"It's been a distraction, though I haven't had to deal with it as much as some of the guys around me. But it's something that I've obviously not wanted to happen in my life."

Other factors were at play as McIlroy plummeted from the pinnacle of world golf here 12 months ago.

Those who saw the Holywood native spectacularly wipe out Justin Rose's three-shot lead with five straight birdies down the stretch at the Earth Course to secure his fifth tournament victory of 2012 and seal the Race to Dubai title, believed they had witnessed the dawn of a new era in golf.

Yet an entirely different golfer teed it up at the Abu Dhabi Championship in the new year. As he struggled to get to grips with his new Nike driver and putter, McIlroy also developed issues with his swing and, together, they pitched him into a dizzying downward spiral.

McIlroy only began to pull out of his nosedive in autumn, evidenced by a top-10 finish in his defence of the US PGA title at Oak Hill – but his confidence and morale were badly dented.

Though he has found the Nike driver of his dreams and is encouraged by a gradual improvement in his game, McIlroy awaits a spark of inspiration, that all-important victory which would spare him further months of patient rehabilitation.

Explaining the process, he said: "It's all about getting on a run of events where you're up in contention in each and every event and gradually building your confidence. For example, I walked away from an eighth-place finish at the PGA thinking that's progress, which it was – but I was disappointed to finish sixth in Shanghai last Sunday week.

"That's a different mindset and one you need to go on and win those big tournaments. Okay, that sixth place was one of my best finishes this year, but it's not the level I want to be at.

"When you're in contention at a tournament, you don't quite pull it off and you're disappointed, it makes you hungrier. That's part of the journey I'm on. It might take me three months, it might take less time, who knows? But I'm on the right road."

The top nine players on the money list have a chance, albeit mathematical in some cases, to win the Race to Dubai. McIlroy is not among them but now that he's wielding the driver with renewed authority, it'll come as no surprise if he banishes his demons by retaining the DP World Tour Championship title.

Irish Independent

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