Sport Golf

Tuesday 10 December 2019

Rory shoots himself in the foot

Holywood star’s Twitter outburst whips up storm after patchy opening round

Rory McIlroy reacts to
a poor shot during the
first round of the
Irish Open at Killarney
Rory McIlroy reacts to a poor shot during the first round of the Irish Open at Killarney yesterday

RORY McILROY has few peers when it comes to hitting glorious golf shots, but yesterday at the Irish Open the Holywood star displayed once again a disturbing tendency for shooting himself in the foot.

McIlroy is no stranger to controversy, but the fiery insult the 22-year-old aimed at American media pundit and former European Tour professional Jay Townsend went well beyond the bounds of reason and common sense.

No doubt, McIlroy's intention was to put Townsend in his place after the commentator asserted on Twitter that "shocking" course management skills by the player and especially his caddie JP Fitzgerald, had led to a slipshod double-bogey six on the final hole at the Killeen Course.

He even suggested that McIlroy should hire Steve Williams now that the New Zealander has been cut loose by Tiger Woods.

Yet the greatest victim of an ill-judged and ill-tempered retaliatory strike inevitably is McIlroy himself after he transformed a minor spat on an obscure Twitter feed into a major media crisis.

Townsend certainly had been cutting in his remarks about McIlroy and Fitzgerald during the live TV broadcast on the Golf Channel and was even more brutal in his follow-up Tweets.

"It was some of the worst course management I have ever seen beyond Under 10 boys' golf competition," wrote Townsend.

This stinging rebuke would be described later by McIlroy as "the straw which broke the camel's back.

He added: "He's been having a go every now and again since JP and I started working together in mid-2008 and this was the first time I've responded."

Still that cannot justify McIlroy's petulant and puerile riposte.

"Shut up," he tweeted angrily, adding: "You're a commentator and a failed golfer. Your opinion means nothing."

As soon as he pressed the button to post this tweet, McIlroy multiplied by a more than a hundred-fold the impact of Townsend's tweets.

Consider this: Townsend's Twitter page had just 3,956 'followers' when he launched into McIlroy and his caddie yesterday afternoon ... while the youngster potentially brought the broadcaster's views to the attention of his 544,930 'followers.'

It is contrary to European Tour rules for one player to express disparaging remarks about another professional or any other employee (technically, Townsend works for European Tour Productions).

Yet far more damaging than any fine which may be levied against McIlroy is the damage this spat has done to the US Open champion's hitherto untarnished image as the bright and shining alternative to Woods.

Of more pressing concern to McIlroy is likely to be the attention this fiery exchange inevitably will focus on his course management over the next few days and the job being done by the man at his side.

If Fitzgerald had come in for criticism after Mcilroy's final-round implosion at April's US Masters, with Townsend prominent among the detractors, their partnership was gilded at Congressional as the caddie helped propel his employer to a barnstorming first Major victory.

Well, because of McIlroy's impetuosity yesterday, it's back under the microscope once again.

Many of those who do not know the history behind this issue will wonder why McIlroy would be so sensitive on the matter, especially so soon after becoming a Major champion.

Yet he has let frustration get the better of him before. As recently as Wednesday, McIlroy backtracked from controversial remarks he made about his dislike for playing in windy conditions after his final round at the British Open at Royal St George's.

"If I'd a little more time to think about it, yeah, I probably would have said something different," he explained. "I was honest and just really said what I felt at the time."

McIlroy's trademark candour, however refreshing in a sport bound up with political correctness, infamously brought him to attention for the wrong reasons on a couple of occasions before the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor.

For a start, he described the Ryder Cup as "an exhibition," an opinion McIlroy would revise after playing his part in Europe's victory last October.

Then he found himself under pressure when remarks he'd made about "anyone on the European team being happy to play Tiger Woods" came back to haunt him in Ryder Cup week.

No question, McIlroy gave in to intense frustration and disappointment at Royal St George's, while his earlier faux pas were more easily attributed to inexperience. Not any more. McIlroy is a Major champion and, as one of the most gifted young players in world golf, he has a duty not only to his own reputation, but that of his sport.

The time has come for him to face up to that responsibility.

So, what of the shots which so irked Townsend -- the three-wood McIlroy hit off the tee into a fairway bunker and the approach he hit from the sand into water short of the green.

Had there been much discussion between player and caddie on that final tee? No, he said, explaining: "The three-wood was what we had planned yesterday. You can either hit the driver and take the bunkers out of play, but that brings water on the left into play a little bit. I took it off the left side and just cut it a little bit too much. It wasn't that bad a tee shot really."

Fair enough ... but Townsend perhaps had a point about McIlroy's decision to go for the pin from the bunker, instead of the heart of the green.

However, this error was not so grievous to warrant the vitriol the commentator aimed at the Irishman and his caddie. Above all, it was as much a poor shot as bad judgement.

Though McIlroy had cruised to four-under through 10 holes yesterday, he had been striking the ball poorly off the tee and relied heavily on his short game and putting to make progress up the leaderboard.

Yet even that would let him down as he failed to get up and down from greenside rough for his first bogey of the day at 11. McIlroy signed for a 70 after that double-bogey six at the last, leaving him seven off the pace set by Jeev Milkha Singh.

If his chances of Irish Open victory were flickering, one hopes this young man will have learned a life-lesson more from his impetuosity off the course than on it.

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