Did ya hear the one about the wannabe yank who turned his back on the Irish Open and therefore his country? No? Well congratulations, you have avoided the internet. If you haven’t heard it, be warned – I’m about to fill you in.
Believe it or not, Rory McIlroy is a divisive character, at least here in Ireland. Why? Probably because he’s super successful, living in America and the country he represents doesn’t have a tri-colour next to his name. Personally, I love McIlroy, but sometimes I feel I’m in the minority.
For me, McIlroy is the greatest golfer to be born on the island of Ireland. He’s a generational talent. A four-time Major winner and a genuine superstar. For others, well, he’s British.
It was in September 2012 that a 23-year old McIlroy revealed, “I’ve always felt more British than Irish.” The Irish people didn’t like that one bit.
They saw it as an unforgivable act of treason. For the young McIlroy, it was an exercise in stress relief. Trying to unburden his then tortured soul having been brought up in a fractured Northern Ireland, playing golf under the GUI umbrella whilst paying for his meals in pounds and posting his letters in red post boxes.
“Maybe it was the way I was brought up, I don’t know, but I have always felt more of a connection with the UK than with Ireland. And so I have to weigh that up against the fact that I’ve always played for Ireland and so it’s tough. Whatever I do, I know my decision is going to upset some people but I just hope the vast majority will understand.”
It would be wrong of me to say the vast majority don’t understand, because those who shout loudest online generally don’t represent most people, but McIlroy’s revelations lost him legions of fans; many expecting the Holywood star to rub salt in their wounds and line out for Team GB at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
McIlroy had other ideas.
The game’s best player opted for Team Ireland, to many people’s surprise. Then the eyebrow raisers were appeased when McIlroy, torn between two national identities, pulled out of the Games altogether. He cited the Zika virus to bypass the Games, but where Shane Lowry avoided scrutiny for using the same excuse, because, well, we like him, McIlroy was again accused of treason, and again it was unforgivable.
As George W Bush says, “Fool me once, shame on…shame on you. Fool me—you can’t get fooled again.” But McIlroy had a third trick up his sleeve. The year was 2019 and McIlroy opts out of his biggest fan’s hosting of the Irish Open at Lahinch in order to best prepare for his shot at the Claret Jug two weeks later at Royal Portrush.
Unwilling to play three weeks in a row, a trip to The Renaissance Club was preferred, a complete waste of time in hindsight by McIlroy’s own admission as his best laid plans backfired on the first hole at the 148th Open, won by Ireland’s favourite son, Lowry. Low and behold, McIlroy was also missing from the drab 2020 renewal at Galgorm; not the fault of the venue, rather the countless restrictions caused be some pesky pandemic.
Had McIlroy turned his back on the Irish Open for good? The naysayers certainly thought so. ‘We don’t need him anyway’, some said, which is hilarious short-term memory loss and the reason I felt a brief history lesson was necessary in the lead up to Mount Juliet.
On the contrary, we need McIlroy’s involvement as much today as we did in 2015 when he took a defibrillator to the Irish Open and brought it back from the dead. With the McIlroy Foundation behind the Irish Open, the tournament was dragged from the ashes and soon elevated to $7million Rolex Series status in 2017, even attracting some of Rory’s Beverly Hills buddies to cross the Atlantic to play it.
Heck, McIlroy even decided to win the thing, juggling hosting duties at the K Club in 2016 with producing two of the best fairway woods seen down the stretch in the tournament, or any tournament’s history. Is that it? No, it’s not it. He only went and donated the full €666,000 winner’s cheque to charity, the smug bollocks!
So yeah, we do need him. The Irish Open will forever be richer when McIlroy’s involved. The fact he’s coming when it’s only a €3m dollar purse on a parkland in Mount Juliet that isn’t exactly ideal Open prep is a generous move. Hell, the Saudis would offer McIlroy that much just to hop on a flight once a year in February, but not even the Saudi dollar can lure McIlroy to the dark side. The purest ball-striker the island has produced, and one of the purest individuals to represent Ireland on a global stage.
But hey, I guess you can’t please everybody.