What would Rory McIlroy say to his younger self?
Those five lines delivered to Caroline Wozniacki inadvertently articulated what it must be like to live a life that has become about image management and mismanagement
In the thick of it: Wozniacki with McIlroy shortly after they started dating, in 2011. Photograph: Matthew Stockman/Getty
Someday down the line, maybe in a decade or so, as Rory McIlroy drifts towards middle age and veteran status, and the callowness of youth has been expended, a journalist, or a roomful of them, will ask the golfer what advice he would give his younger self.
What would he have done differently? Does he have any regrets?
At that point in his life an accumulation of experience will have afforded him some perspective, some wisdom and a couple of one-liners to help feed the media.
And maybe he will dwell on the five-line statement he delivered to the world on Wednesday of this week. Perhaps he will come to regret the wording that announced the end of his relationship with Caroline Wozniacki; its timing; his subsequent handling of it. Maybe he regretted it in the hours after he sent it.
But those five lines were perfect in a way. Perhaps not perfect to McIlroy. Certainly not perfect to Wozniacki. But for the rest of us they inadvertently articulated what it must be like to live a life that has become about image management and mismanagement.
What it’s like to know that when you make a difficult decision about your private life it will get reported in the New York Times. What it’s like to be a young man with an extraordinary talent who grew up to be a brand. And how almost impossible it is to know how to handle such a thing when you’re 25.
The five lines of that statement were the words both of a callow man and of a corporation. They contained cliche. (“The problem is mine” was a variation of “It’s not you, it’s me.”) The line about the wedding invitations brought unintended humour, because it was hard for many veterans of wedding plans to avoid nodding sagely at the vision of a relationship ending because someone didn’t get their way over gold-embossed envelopes.
It had a corporate flavour, too. When McIlroy said, “I wish Caroline all the happiness she deserves and thank her for the great times we’ve had,” it was the statement of a company putting a chief executive on gardening leave; of a football club sacking its manager. It could just as readily have said, “I’d like to place on record my appreciation for . . .”
And then the final line, which promised that he would “not be saying anything more about our relationship in any setting”. Except the setting did arise. That very afternoon. A press conference in front of the world’s media.
Oh Rory, you thought, don’t do this to yourself. And then you broke out the popcorn.
For the journalists at that press conference it must have been simultaneously thrilling and horribly awkward.
Testing the water with the opening question. Tentatively pushing on as McIlroy proved soft and honest enough to answer them. Dangling the bait. Trying not to scare the prey away.
All the while McIlroy talked on even though he tried to bury himself under a curved peak cap that could have stretched across the room yet not have been long enough to hide his discomfort.
When McIlroy first appeared in the papers, it was well over a decade ago, and he was just a name in the results section on the golf pages. Then he earned a line here or there about a win, or his selection for a team.
Soon, though, the rumour grew about just how good this kid was. Then the interviews, and the hopes for the future, and the quotes about keeping his feet on the ground.
The anticipation then was always about hitting a small white ball around a field with a stick, with the attendant trophies and the millions in cash. It was never a discussion about future court cases, management splits, equipment problems, sponsor fall-outs.
It was not about which nation’s pride he would be required to upset before the Olympics.
And least of all was it about how his love life would end up fodder for a “Rory’s ditch and putt” front-page pun in the Sun (still arguably preferable to Wozniacki being given the line “Bogey for birdie”).
But here he is, in the thick of it now, the Tiggerish bounce of his earliest days hobbled by experience. And already you wonder: what would the McIlroy of now tell his younger self? What advice would the 25-year-old give to the 15-year-old about a game that has turned out to be about far more than the golf?