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Bemused by the riddle that is Rory

If I had been given a pound for every time I was asked what is wrong with Rory, then I’d be a lot richer than I am now. Not just Rory, either. When the Tiger Woods mania was at its peak, I must have been asked the same sort of question about him, too. What’s up with Tiger? People want to know these things.

Now that Tiger seems to have rediscovered himself, got a new girl-friend and won five tournaments so far this year, he seems to be all right. Besides, I have written endlessly about Woods. Let’s talk about McIlroy instead.

What’s wrong with Rory?

Why is he so stressed? Why is he playing so poorly? He has seemed a shadow of himself lately, looking and sometimes sounding as though he didn’t want to be playing golf. At the end of May, he tweeted: “Watched Django Unchained last night with the mrs…Must say I’m becoming a big fan of Quentin Tarantino movies! #blood”.

It is perfectly possible that Rory will surge back to form in the coming weeks after a rotten first six months of the year. He has the talent to do that. The fact remains though, that for most of the year his behaviour, never mind his golf, has been puzzling and out of character.

It all started in May when there were rumours that he was leaving Horizon, his management company, and he and Gerry McIlroy, his father, Sean O’Flaherty, a colleague at Horizon who is never far from his side when he is not on a golf course, and an accountant from Horizon were setting up a new company to manage him. From the moment the rumours started, McIlroy became tight-lipped and evasive. He denied the story categorically. This was not the happy-go-lucky, softlyspoken Rory of blessed memory.

McIlroy has always appeared to be a young man with oodles of Irish charm and when you got to know him you discovered that he is a young man with oodles of Irish charm. He has a winning way of dismissing difficult questions with a rueful smile. Even the thorny issue of which country he would represent in the 2016 Olympic Games – Britain or Ireland – did not seem to tax him particularly.

So why did he continue to deny the story about leaving Horizon? He admitted it, and then rather sourly, during the PGA Championship at Wentworth, when he said there was something in it but he was prevented from talking about it. Why couldn’t he have said that three weeks earlier?

For that matter, why did he appear to be rude to journalists at Wentworth when he told them the words of advice he had recently been given by a friend, namely that “if you join the circus you have to put up with the clowns.” Whatever McIlroy meant, the journalists thought he was calling them clowns and one or two jokingly said the next time McIlroy came into the interview room they should all put on false red noses.

After McIlroy’s bumper year in 2012, when he won five tournaments around the world including the PGA in the US, and won the money lists in both the US and Europe, plenty of agents could bring in deals such as McIlroy signed with Nike in January, said to be worth as much as £100m over five years, another one with Bose, the audio firm, and a third with Omega, the Swiss watchmaker.

There may be good reasons for McIlroy to be leaving Horizon, which was founded in 2005. Oakley, the eyewear company, are suing Horizon for breach of contract. McIlroy is said to be disappointed by this because he prizes relationships with sponsors. Horizon’s reaction to McIlroy’s giving up mid round during a tournament in the US in March, complaining of a sore wisdom tooth, does them little credit. His apology was late and flimsy and he has been trying to make up for it ever since. So, to sum up, Horizon’s legal wrangle with Oakley and Horizon’s lack of crisis management at times may have contributed to McIlroy’s poor golf and unusual behaviour.

Meantime, McIlroy splutters along on the golf course, comforted by knowing that he has made a huge amount of money in the past few years. The Sunday Times Sport Rich List valued McIlroy at more than £25m, which is good going for a man only just past his 24th birthday. McIlroy needs to play better to quell the view that it started to go wrong for him when he signed with Nike in January. “Too much money” was the sort of thing older people said, partly out of jealousy and partly thinking it would go to McIlroy’s head, though Matthew Syed argued in The Times that the arrival of large sums of money in sport has been beneficial. It has given aspiring sportsmen the chance to earn a living, has improved the television coverage of sports including football, racing, cricket, rugby and golf and generally resulted in more accommodating, and sometimes safer, facilities for spectators.

If the money has spoiled McIlroy, it hasn’t done so the way it has with many past recipients of huge largesse who have gone on spending sprees and bought their family lavish presents and themselves a brace of Ferraris. But something has affected McIlroy. He is playing badly and behaving oddly. And it is all so out of character. Those who liked and cared for the old McIlroy would like him back, please. Come on Rory!

July 2013

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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