Rory McIlroy: Hoylake the latest chapter in a compelling drama
Rory McIlroy has once again demonstrated his unique ability to get a Major job done
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland celebrates with his mother Rosie on the 18th green after winning the British Open Championship at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club. Photograph: Reuters
Rory McIlroy poses with the Claret Jug after winning the British Open Championship at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake. Photograph: Reuters
Who needs fiction? As Oscar Wilde once put it, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist.”
In living a real drama of his own, Rory McIlroy has become a central character, both on and off the golf course. Compulsive, compelling, captivating: he is all of these and more, his life – this year alone – involving legal proceedings (ongoing), a relationship break-up, a decision to wear the shamrock at the Olympics and capped by a couple of spectacular championship victories.
For sure, it’s never a dull life.
It’s only two months since McIlroy split with his fiancée Caroline Wozniacki, on the eve of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
It was a bolt out of the blue, for the wedding invitations had apparently started to go out in the post the weekend previously. What’s more, never one to shy away, it was McIlroy himself – in a released statement – who broke the news that the engagement was over.
Found peaceIf there was a frame of thought that McIlroy had only shown up to the European Tour’s flagship event out of a commitment to be there, the golfer confounded everyone; and probably himself too! If his mind was scrambled off the golf course, to the extent that he switched off his mobile phone for days on end and gave his laptop away, McIlroy found peace.
He won, and on a course that had that often caused him consternation and frustration.
“I guess when I got inside the ropes, it was a little bit of a release. I was on my own, doing what I do best which is playing golf. And that sort of gave me four or five hours of serenity or sanctuary or whatever you want to call it, just focusing on the job at hand which was to play golf and get the ball in the hole in the lowest number of shots possible,” said McIlroy.
How could he explain it? Quite simply, he couldn’t. Not really. “I can’t explain it. It’s obviously been a week of very mixed emotions but I’m sitting here looking at this trophy and going, ‘how the hell? how did it happen?’ But it did.”
Amazingly, it was McIlroy’s first ever career win as a professional on European soil.
That success at Wentworth in May was something of a relief, in a year on the golf course that had promised more than it had delivered up to that point.
He had consistently knocked on the door, with eight top-10s in strokeplay events prior to claiming the BMW PGA.
“Top-10s are great, but they are not really what I’m looking for,” admitted McIlroy.
Pertinently, at the time of his win in the BMW PGA, McIlroy remarked: “I think the game is waiting for one guy or one or two guys or whatever just to kick on. I’d like to be that guy, and I’d like to think that this is a springboard to doing something like that. You know, there’s still three Majors to play this year, a lot of golf left, a lot of big tournaments to try and win.
Just beginning“So even though we’re nearly halfway through the season, I feel like mine’s just beginning.”
Yet, fresh from his win in Wentworth, McIlroy’s next outing was to highlight an inconsistency that made achieving those wins rather difficult. It was a propensity to follow a good and often great opening round with a poor second round, a syndrome that even led to a counselling session of sorts with Jack Nicklaus.
It was at the Memorial tournament at Muirfield Village that McIlroy followed up a first round 63 with a second round 78. He eventually finished tied-15th and moved on to play some practice rounds at Pinehurst, ahead of the US Open.
It was after those practice sessions that he picked up the phone to Nicklaus and arranged a meeting with him in West Palm Beach in Florida.
“We’d a great conversation about everything. Business. Golf. Brand. The whole lot. And I got a lot from that. He said to me, ‘How the hell can you shoot 63 and then 78 (in the second round at the Memorial)?’ I said, ‘I wasn’t meaning to, Jack, I’m trying not to’,” recalled McIlroy of one of the more light-hearted exchanges.
But there was also a more serious side to the conversation, as Nicklaus – winner of a record 18 career Majors – imparted wisdom to the Northern Irishman.
By the time he arrived in Fota Island for the Irish Open, another Major – the US Open – had passed McIlroy by.
But there was to be another pre-tournament announcement from McIlroy that would again propel him into the spotlight. Ever since golf was readmitted to the Olympic family, making a reappearance in Rio for the first time in 112 years after a well-orchestrated campaign which featured Pádraig Harrington and Annika Sorenstam among its chief advocates, the question of who McIlroy – eligible, under the Belfast Agreement, to play for Ireland or Great Britain – would play for had remained unanswered.
McIlroy chose that Wednesday in Cork to break the news that he would represent Ireland.
Very selfishThe option of not representing anyone and staying away from Rio was not one he had seriously considered. “It would have been a very selfish decision. It wouldn’t have been good for the game of golf at all. If we as a golfing community want golf to succeed in the Olympics, you need to have your best players playing. I realised that pretty quickly . . . . ultimately, we want to grow the game and expose the game to more people around the world.”
When the decision came, it was McIlroy’s alone. “I was always just worried about what other people would think, when actually it’s your decision at the end of the day. You have to take ownership and be comfortable with it. That was the decision I was most comfortable with, the decision I wanted to make.”
For certain, it has been an eventful year to date for McIlroy, who has had other off-course matters to be concerned with. He split from Horizon Sports and set up his own company – Rory McIlroy Inc – in May 2013 to handle his affairs. That management break from Horizon remains the subject of ongoing legal proceedings in the Commercial Court in Dublin; yet, clearly, the affair hasn’t detracted from his ability to switch off and focus on his golf once inside the ropes.