Get lost Rory Mcllroy! You’re only a turncoat! And a West Brit! You’re not even Irish! Get back to your home country (wherever that is) and don’t bother trying to declare for us again.
Rory Mcllroy’s recent assertion that he was withdrawing from Olympic consideration because of his concerns over the Zika virus was just about the biggest PR mistake that he could make. Ever since it was known that golf was going to be in this year’s games, there has been a massive question over whether he would play, and, if so, who would he play for. First he was British, then he was Irish. First he was in, then, after an arduous deliberation process, he was out.
It’s been a confusing issue for him for a few years now. Maybe, given the furore over his nationality, he just didn’t want to play. It would have been understandable if that was the case. But then, he didn’t say that. Instead he concocted some ridiculous reasoning that an obscure disease was his cause for withdrawing. When you consider the chances of infection are about three in every 100,000, you would have to assert it was a very flimsy excuse.
Not only was his statement insulting to our own intelligence, it was exceedingly hurtful to the people of Brazil who have battled against prejudice to host the event. Such ill-founded logic could badly affect the image and tourism industry in the country. For McIlroy to use such circumstantial evidence as a decision for pulling out of an event was clearly a mistake. But then again, it was the same excuse used by Shane Lowry…
Nothing sums up the differences in the Irish psyche more than the level of opprobrium faced by Mcllroy compared to the unconditional love showered on Lowry. In stark contrast to the Ulsterman, Lowry is seen as “one of us”. The fact that his body shape is closer to the traditional Irish male adds much to his appeal. He looks, and behaves, like the kind of fella you’d want to go for a jar with. Mcllroy’s sculpted physique, on the other hand, makes us even more body conscious.
The Offaly man is a gregarious, affable sort. It seems clear that he likes his dinners and his pints. He loves the GAA. His first tournament win was a fairytale Irish Open at a sodden County Louth venue as an amateur in 2009. And because he wasn’t a professional at the time, he couldn’t even cash the €500,000 cheque.
From that moment on the love affair with Lowry was cemented in the eyes of the public. His withdrawal from the Games hardly met with a single negative response. And, you’d have to deduce, that’s not because of what he did, but rather, who he is. Nobody expects success from Lowry. But we cherish it when there is.
If Lowry’s the classic underdog story, then Mcllroy’s is the over-dog one. He was a child prodigy who always seemed destined for a glittering future in the game. From the time he was 15, people have been expecting, nay demanding, instant success from him. Every win has been greeted with a shrug of the shoulders, as if that’s what he’s supposed to do. We don’t look at his four majors and admire how well he’s done. We look at what he’s lost and ask why he’s underachieved so much.
With all this unnecessary bile being spewed in his direction, it’s tempting to see Mcllroy as the Bono of the Irish sporting world. Rather than feel proud that one of our countrymen is operating at an elite level in a vastly competitive field, we try and find reasons to knock him. Yeah, we know he’s talented. Yeah, he’s successful, but by God, do we hate him for it. Every time he speaks it’s as if we feel he’s patronising us. Is it just jealousy at the heart of it, or something deeper?
And that’s not to say that Rory hasn’t made some mistakes in all of this, because he certainly has. You can’t get engaged to a world class tennis player, and call it off at the last minute, and not expect people to throw some mud at you. Or have a settlement of $25 million for breach of contract with your management company, without a few eyebrows being raised. But then again, he is 27. Are you saying you were proud of everything you did before you reached your thirties? I know I’m not.
McIlroy’s life has been lived in a goldfish bowl since his mid teens. Every on-course tantrum has been an event, every fledgling relationship has become tabloid fodder. But when you consider the level of scrutiny he’s under, in a way, it’s amazing how well he’s held up. There’s been no Britney Spears/Drew Barrymore-style Hollywood meltdown. Any setbacks have been on the minor Hollywood, Co. Down scale, rather than full scale Californian tragedies.
It’s not easy being a child prodigy. Just as an example we’ve heard of numerous young footballing whizz-kids over the years: Freddy Adu, Nii Lamptey et al, who have buckled under the pressure of being the next big thing. Even Rory’s predecessor for golf greatness has a much more lengthy rap sheet. And sure, Tiger Woods’ achievements by 27 blow Rory away. But would you rather deal with Mcllroy’s reasonably relaxed attitude or Woods’ win-at-all-costs mentality? And do you think that Rory will have burned himself out by his mid 30s like Tiger’s obsession has done?
Maybe pulling out from the Olympics is the missing of a “golden” opportunity for Mcllroy, or, just maybe, it’s a grown man making a brave, legitimate decision. The only possible complaint you could have is the way it was done. If he didn’t want to play in the Olympics, he probably should have said it straight out initially. He admitted as much in a press conference a few weeks ago. While pretty much laying bare the fact that the Zika Virus excuse was an elaborate ruse, he tellingly stated: “I didn’t get into golf to grow the game, I got into golf to win major championships. I’ll probably watch the Olympics but I’m not sure I’ll watch the golf. I’ll watch the track and field, the swimming… the stuff that matters.”
And in that, we hit on the central nub of the problem: Olympic Golf doesn’t matter, because Golf shouldn’t be in the Olympics. There are big Golf tournaments almost every weekend. There are four major championships a year, and Ryder cups, match-play tournaments et al, constantly demanding our attention.
Why do we need well-paid, well-known golfers to be stealing the limelight, when we have gymnasts and javelin throwers who’ve been working silently for years for this chance? If anything we should be thanking him for not taking attention away from worthier athletes. The idea of using golf in the Olympics to “grow the game” is preposterous. The game is already fully formed. It should be taken out, and while they’re at it, tennis and football can be shafted from the Olympics too.
However, this argument is not about golf either, it’s about us. It’s about how we crave gold medals in the Olympics and how we hiss when we’re denied that possibility. How we demand success from our sportspeople, and then find ways to begrudge them when they’ve achieved it. We’re lucky in Ireland that we’ve got two world class golfers. Maybe rather than just taking sides, it’s time we cheered on both of them.
Mark Townsend, Pundit Arena