Thursday 14 December 2017


Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

YOU picture the kid who could dominate golf for the next 20 years and, right now, all that comes into view is someone who's got ants in his shoes. Maybe everything will be fine when Rory McIlroy gets some new names on his shirt and finds that nice Florida castle he's been searching for, no doubt surrounding it with a moat.

Perhaps he'll be all sweetness and light soon as people stop mistaking his flashbulb romance for sport's equivalent of the Kardashians.

But whatever's eating McIlroy right now, it might help if people asked him a few straight questions.

Like what does he make of the signals coming from Chubby Chandler's camp over the weekend that, when all the insufferable corporate speak is parked, they palpably believe he's become a little big for his boots?

Like is he just bored with life or impatient with people?

Rory's not just a golfer; he's an industry. We understand that. But last Friday's cowpat of a public statement about being keen to "move on to the next stage" of his career explains nothing about the decision to add his manager to a list of personal discards for 2011 that already included his childhood sweetheart and the European Tour.

There's such a constant changing of McIlroy's mind right now, you have to wonder how he ever manages to order dinner.

This is his right, no question. But what does it indicate? Chandler has been less than subtle in a suggestion that Rory's relationship with Caroline Wozniacki, the world's No 1 ranked women's tennis player, has ... well ... made him a little high maintenance.

Over the weekend, he revealed that McIlroy recently indicated he wasn't happy "with his brand, sponsors, website or his public relations image."

Not much left after that lot, is there?

Can we take it he is, at least, satisfied with his hair?

Now this column couldn't give a scratched balata whether the job of filling McIlroy's diary with fresh money-making opportunities falls to Chandler or his new man, Conor Ridge.

But it might be good if someone, sooner rather than later, asked Rory if he actually knows what rainbow it is he's chasing.

Because preciousness in heroes isn't long turning the public sour. And, at Royal St George's in July, everything about Rory McIlroy made people feel like they were intruding upon his world.

As his challenge for The Open faded, Rory's body language radiated irritation with the wind, rain and over-zealous galleries.

Afterwards, he talked of The Open as some kind of weather-scarred inconvenience, barely worth his future attention.

Listening, you could have believed the Holywood of his childhood belonged in the sun-kissed Los Angeles hills rather than the winter winds and sodden moors of Co Down.

Just a month after that brilliant US Open success at Congressional, something fundamental had changed.

By now, he was in the process of splitting up again with his long-time girlfriend and performing a U-turn on a decision, taken less than a year earlier, to hand in his US Tour card after one season.

Perhaps he was also becoming mindful of over-crowding in Chandler's burgeoning stable of superstars.

Darren Clarke's victory at Sandwich meant that ISM now had three reigning Major champions on their books (Charl Schwartzel being the other) as well as 2010 Open winner Louis Oosthuizen.

Despite having access to a full-time 'handler', the suggestion now being made is that McIlroy felt the need for a more personal focus from his management team. Roughly translated, that means he felt he was worth more money.

To you and me this might be difficult to countenance. Before he even won the US Open, Rory's personal 'endorsements' were said to be worth in excess of £10m a year.

Recently, he signed what was described as a "huge, multi-million pound contract" with the bank, Santander, allowing them become one of half a dozen sponsors on his shirt.

So what's happening in his world right now? Could we maybe park the conventional deference with which the golf media addresses its stars and ask the player currently ranked third best in the world one simple question?

If taking your game "to the next stage" is all that motivates you today, what brought you to China this month on a so-called "odyssey" with Ernie Els, Ian Poulter and a man called Liang Wen-Chong?

We know little about the event involved other than that it was sponsored by a development company and offered no prize money.

Basically, you played a grand total of 18 holes, plucked from a collection of eight different courses, and did a few coaching clinics and 'publicity events'.

"I'm always keen for a challenge," you were quoted as saying at the time. No doubt, accepting that "challenge" came with an invoice.

The popular view on the fairways is that all McIlroy has to do to win more Majors is live, which -- you'll agree -- is a dangerous mindset. His extraordinary dominance at Congressional was forged upon an ability to drive the ball into another time-zone.

The Holywood youngster made the rest of the field look like a mob chasing a Securicor van.

But his course management has been questioned (much to his obvious vexation) and there remains a doubt as to whether he has a sufficiently composed short game to grind out big victories from tight corners.

The greatest players are like surgeons around a green. Rory has yet to demonstrate that patience.

Maybe all this flux in his life will lead to a better place but, right now, it's difficult not to see it as a kid with his head turned. Maybe he needs to be reminded by someone that there are tougher ways in life to make a buck.

He has the talent to be a legend. But has he the gift of wanting it?

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