McIlroy believes walkout was a blessing in disguise
Rory McIlroy addresses the media ahead of the WGC-Cadilac Championship in Florida. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy never claimed to be the paradigm of virtue or the poster boy of perfection that his blue chip sponsors would love him to be.
Apart from his amazing talent, the key to his appeal is what one commentator described as his “authenticity” as a sportsman – the candour, the boyish charm and his insistence on being refreshingly honest, whatever the circumstances.
Loyalty is one of his marked characteristics but in exonerating his new Nike golf clubs from any blame in last Friday’s Honda Classic meltdown and subsequent walk-out, he eroded every so slightly that layer of “authenticity.”
That said, he will be forgiven for that bow to multi-million dollar commercial interest and the 23-year-old’s face-to-face with the media in Miami yesterday will still go down as one of the youngster’s most memorable performances, ranking second only to the brutally honest television interview he gave moments after the tearful 80 that cost him the 2011 Masters.
Wearing a pale yellow top, grey slacks and a grey Nike baseball cap, he stuck to the script and mixed humour with honest self-analysis, apologising for his behaviour before recognising that it was a wake-cup call that could prove to be another significant watershed in his career.
When he was bogged down in a mini-slump last season, having missed four cuts out of five, he was reminded by his short game coach Dave Stockton that his demeanour was poor. He wasn’t smiling. He wasn’t playing the game like the kid the world fell in love with on his first competitive visit to the US four years ago. Within days he has won a second Major title by eight strokes.
Released a valve
“I actually think in the long run, Friday will be a blessing in disguise,” McIlroy said. “It was like it released a valve and all that pressure that I’ve been putting on myself just went away. I’m like, just go out and have fun. It’s not life or death out there. It’s only a game. I’d sort of forgotten that this year.
“I learned that when the going gets tough, I’ve got to stick in there a bit more. I’ve got to grind it out. There’s no excuse for quitting and it doesn’t set a good example for the kids watching me, trying to emulate way do.
“It wasn’t good for a whole lot of reasons, for the tournament, the people coming out watching me. I feel like I let a lot of people down with what I did last week, and for that I am very sorry.”
Like a school of sharks ready to detect the slightest whiff of blood in the water, the press wanted answers but McIlroy had a response to every question, starting with last Friday’s contradictions. Having walked off the course saying he was not “in a good place mentally” he later claimed in an official statement that he was suffering from wisdom tooth pain. Which story was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? “Both,” he said, remaining loyal to his management company. “I wasn’t in a good place with my golf game. Mentally, my head was all over the place. But at the same time, I have been struggling with my lower right wisdom tooth for over a year.
“I had braces on for six months last year to try and relieve a bit of the pressure on it and taking medication until I get home to Northern Ireland and see my dentist, who is the only guy that I would trust to take it out. The tooth was bothering me, but not enough to quit. That’s just the way it is.”
With that unpleasant truth out of the way, McIlroy went on to answer every question that was put to him by the 75-strong media corp during an exchange that last 24 minutes and 23 seconds. There were 10 TV crews and dozens of photographers hanging on every gesture as he repeated what he’d told an on-line American golf publication on Sunday night.
“It was a build-up of high expectations from myself,” he said before admitting that he has plenty to learn about reacting in diversity and not just rebounding from disaster.
“It was a mistake and everyone makes mistakes and I’m learning from them. Some people have the pleasure of making mistakes in private. Most of my mistakes are in the public eye.
“So it is what it is, and I regret what I did. But, you know, it’s over now and it won’t happen again.”
Broke the ice
McIlroy broke the ice with his opening remarks thanks to a soft opening question from the moderator and a joke about 10-man Manchester United’s Champions League exit to Real Madrid on Wednesday night.
“I suppose, Rory, just go straight into the heart of the matter here and how disappointed were you with Manchester United’s score yesterday?” the European Tour’s Michael Gibbons asked.
With the room breaking into laughter, McIlroy reflected on Nani’s sending off and that defeat for his beloved Red Devils before going into detail on last week’s painful walk out.
“It was not a red card, I’ll tell you that much,” McIlroy insisted before being asked about his auto-expulsion last week. He said: “I gave myself a red card last week.”
As Tiger Woods pointed out later, there are no red cards in golf. There’s always next week. “Over the years, I’ve just put it aside and moved on,” Woods said.
McIlroy must now take note and follow suit.
Rory speak What he said
On the causes of his meltdown . . . .
“It was a buildup of high expectations from myself coming off the back of such a great year last year, and wanting to continue that form into this year and not being able to do it. I just sort of let it all get to me.”
On his swing problems . . . .
“We were trying to find the balance between making a bit of a swing change and finding some playability in it so that I can go out there and play and not think about it. But we realise there’s no quick fixes. You just have to get to the root of the problem, no pun intended, and just fix it. I know if I can get my takeaway fixed, the rest of the swing will follow. I’ve worked my ass off over the last four or five days to really try and get this right. Still, it’s a work in progress.”
On Nike as the root of the problem . . . .
“No, I really don’t think so. I think coming off the back of last year, five wins, a second Major championship in two years, I just really wanted to continue where I left off in 2012. It’s been frustrating that I haven’t been able to do that. It’s irrelevant what deal I have or what clubs I play.”
On where he believes his meltdown will erode his fan base . .. .
“No, not at all. As I said, everyone makes mistakes. I’m 23 years old, I’m still learning.”
On being open with the media . . . .
“We, as in me and all you guys, are hopefully going to have a working relationship for the next 20 years, so I don’t want to jeopardise that by being closed.”
On adding an event before the Masters . .. .
“I haven’t planned on it yet. I’m waiting to see how I do this week and then make a decision. I know if I want to play Tampa next week, I’ve got to enter by Friday and obviously there’s Bay Hill after that. Right now, I haven’t made a decision. I feel like I’ve made some progress over the last few days, so the likelihood is I probably won’t add an event.
On his Twitter exchanges with Ronan Keating and what the hashtag #FTB (F**k the begrudgers) really stands for?
“It’s a little private joke between friends, and something I probably can’t divulge on live TV, if I’m on live.”
On girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki and the break-up rumours:
“Just because I have a bad day on the course and Caroline loses a match in Malaysia, it doesn’t mean we’re breaking up (shakes head). Everything on that front is great and I’m looking forward to seeing her next week when she gets to Miami.”
WGC Cadillac Championship: The lowdown
Venue: TPC Blue Monster at Trump Doral, Doral, Florida.
Par: 72. Yards: 7,266 yds. Field: 65.
Format: 72 holes strokeplay, no cut.
Defending champion: Justin Rose, 272 (-16)
Prizemoney: $8,750,000 ($1.5 million to the winner)
Last year: Justin Rose earned his fourth PGA Tour victory in come-from-behind fashion, posting a 70 (-2) on Sunday to make up a three-shot deficit on 54-hole leader Bubba Watson. Rory McIlroy came from eight shots behind to within one of the lead, eventually finishing third.
Rory McIlroy – Making his 17th start in a WG C event, he has 10 top-10 finishes. His best was a runner-up finish to Hunter Mahan at the 2012 Accenture Matchplay.
Tiger Woods – A six-time winner of the event (1999, 2002, ’03, ’05, ’06, ’07), with the 2007 title coming here at TPC Blue Monster (’07). He won two PGA Tour events at Doral before the Cadillac Championship moved here in 2007. Woods, who has dominated the WGC with 16 wins, has not won a WGC since the 2009 Bridgestone Invitational.
McIlroy’s “6 Bags Project” – McIlroy will showcase The First Tee Miami logo and then sign and auction the bag for the charity.
The course: The Doral resort was acquired by Donald Trump for $150m last year. He plans to “blow up” it up on Monday and create a “brand new, incredible course” with only the signature, par-four 18th remaining.
The first hole, which now is an easy, 529-yard par-five, will be extended 100 yards with a lake to the right of the green. The plan is to turn the par-three 15th hole into an island green with the par-three ninth be moved to the right along the water that guards the 18th green. That would allow the tee on the par five 10th hole to move farther to the left so that the tee shot is over water. Significant mounding will also be introduced to turn a flat venue into a stadium course.
Selected tee times (Irish time)
16.31 – Schwartzel, Bradley, Dufner
16.41 – Kuchar, Westwood, Poulter
16.53 – McIlroy, Woods, Donald
17.04 – Watney, Els, Van Pelt
17.37 – Simpson, Garcia, McDowell
17.46 – B Watson, Mickelson, Stricker
17.59 – Rose, Oosthuizen, Scott
18.10 – Furyk, Kaymer, Harrington.
Weather – Today: Mostly sunny. Wind 10-20mph. Tomorrow: Partly cloudy Wind 10-20mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy, 20% chance of showers. Wind 10-20mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy, 20% chance of showers. Wind 10-20mph.