Saturday 23 March 2019

Roy Curtis: Rory McIlroy's Irish Open snub an insult to national intelligence and Paul McGinley

27 September 2016; Rory McIlroy of Europe with Paul McGinley during a practice session ahead of The 2016 Ryder Cup Matches at the Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, USA. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
27 September 2016; Rory McIlroy of Europe with Paul McGinley during a practice session ahead of The 2016 Ryder Cup Matches at the Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, USA. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Roy Curtis

RORY McIlroy might as well have serrated the edge of an old lob wedge and thrust it into Paul McGinley's ribcage.

If McIlroy's confirmation that he will bypass this year's Irish Open must feel like a lacerating knife in the back for tournament host McGinley, it speaks to the wider public as just the latest mystifying and infuriating lunge from a superstar increasingly astray, a wildly wobbling champion.

It is as if the yips that can so torment a golfer's sanity on the putting green have besieged his everyday decision-making; as if his sense of duty has been snap-hooked out of bounds.

The Supreme Court of Irish public opinion can legitimately deliver a brutal verdict on McIlroy's indifference.

To many it will feel like the most needless act of infidelity, wilfully counter-intuitive and plain wrong.

Even those of us who sympathised with McIlroy at Olympics time as he passed over chance to wrap himself in the Irish tricolour, who understood his refusal to be force-fed an identity to which he was plainly allergic, can only feel something close to a sense of betrayal this morning.

Even those who recognised the competitive advantage of concentrating on the PGA Tour at the expense of European combat, could never have imagined it would come to this.

Rory can hardly be concerned about contracting the Zika virus at Lahinch, that celestial County Clare coliseum jutting out like an emerald jewel into sparkling Liscannor Bay.

As a professional athlete, he can, of course, argue that he has no duty to represent anything other than his own interests.

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And, as mitigation, he can list off his years as Irish Open host, when, unquestionably, he did the tournament some significant service by raising its profile, status, field-quality and prize money.

Yet, if the Rory Years sprinkled stardust on the event, his snubbing – and, dress it up anyway, shine it with endless PR polish, but it remains a terrible snub to McGinley – is the equivalent of emptying the contents of a septic tank onto Lahinch's world famous Dell and Klondyke putting surfaces.

It bathes the build-up to that week in July in a toxic sludge.

The argument that turning up in Lahinch might somehow inhibit McIlroy's assault on the majors, that it is necessary sacrifice if he is to end a five year wait for his fifth grand slam, is not just as threadbare as a tattered, shopworn and forlorn welcome mat.

It is an insult to the national intelligence.

How could playing a majestic, testing links course, scarcely a drive and a wedge from where The Open Championship itself will unspool a fortnight later across the island on the Antrim coastline be detrimental to the Ulsterman's chances?

Is it not, in fact, a priceless opportunity to wargame his assault on Royal Portrush, a seaside lay-out of identikit DNA?

Remember how Padraig Harrington fine-tuned for his historic conquering of Carnoustie in 2007 with a winning assault on the Irish PGA Championship amid the magnificent sand dunes of the similarly rugged and feral European Club?

For years, Tiger Woods led a platoon of American players who jetted into Ireland to do their prep work for Europe's sole major at Ballybunion, Waterville and, yes, Lahnich.

But it is not just the sense that McIlroy is looking a competitive gift horse in the mouth that is so bewildering.

There is something else:  If he has signed no contract to compete, if he regards himself as a gunslinger loyal only to his own needs, still there is something bigger.

It is called a moral obligation.

To McGinley, who has poured his heart and soul into making a week of days and dreams on the Banner coast; to the next generation of Irish gofers to whom McIlroy is the last word in inspiration; and yes, even if some will rise their eyes to the heavens, to his national championship.

The reputation of golf professionals has plunged into a deep hazard in recent weeks:  From Sergio Garcia's petulance to Matt Kuchar's miserliness, the sense is of an elite divorced from reality, a cabal of out of touch multi-millionaires inhabiting a distant ivory tower.

And now this, a punch in the unguarded solar plexus from Rory.

Those who watch golf on TV will be familiar with the overblown horror from the commentary box when the cameras, as they frequently do, catch The Tiger spitting a gob of phlegm.

One wonders, then, how they will react to McIlroy's announcement, one that feels like the thumbing of the nose at his old Ryder Cup skipper, McGinley.

And at the timeless notion of the Irish Open as something sacred to an Irish professional, a tournament apart, one Harrington and Shane Lowry have always given the impression they might climb off the death bed if it meant one more shot at glory.

As he extracts the blade from between his ribs, McGinley will not be alone in wondering what has become of Rory.

Online Editors

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