I did a bad thing this morning that I promised myself going to bed last night I wouldn’t do. I read the comments under our article confirming Rory McIlroy’s absence from this year’s Horizon Irish Open.
Truth be told, this “announcement” actually arrived weeks ago when McIlroy confirmed a meaty schedule of four straight events – Memorial, Canada, US Open & Travelers – leading up to the Irish Open. Adding Mount Juliet to his calendar would’ve meant five weeks in a row and apart from Sungjae Im, you won’t find many tour players putting themselves through that.
And I know what you’re thinking – golf for four days is hardly torture – but committing to Mount Juliet amounts to so much more than a few days playing golf in Kilkenny. There’s the flight over (private, says you!), the Pro-Am on the Wednesday (playing with John O’Shea – sure he’d love that!), and maybe a practice round if you’re that way inclined, but when you’re Rory McIlroy, there’s also the countless media obligations and corporate commitments that come with each passing week, and they’re the ones that really take their toll.
Even how we secured last night’s McIlroy quotes tells a tale in itself. Far from having the feet up after his Southern Hills disappointment, he was speaking at the launch of the GolfNow Complete App. Of course, the tens of millions McIlroy is earning in off-course sponsorships, investments and endorsements have to be earned, but that doesn’t mean time off isn’t warranted, and having played four rounds at Mount Juliet last year, evidently McIlroy sees no benefit to his Open Championship preparations by doing it again.
Instead, McIlroy will give home fans a chance to catch a glimpse of him in action at the JP McManus Pro-Am where, contrary to popular belief, he won’t accept an appearance fee to compete in the fundraiser as it’s widely reported that no appearance fees are even offered. That said, you could bet your Pro-Am entry cap on McIlroy donating his share to charity, just like he did with the entirety of his €666,000 winner’s cheque at the Irish Open in the K Club in 2016.
I always laugh when I read bitter comments blasting McIlroy, that somehow the tournament is better off without him, as if it wasn’t only a few years ago that he put the weight of his stardom and foundation behind the event to bring it back from the dead.
But people’s memories are short, I get that too. You’re only as good as your last act, your last performance, your last sermon, in my case, your last article (shite says you!), and in McIlroy’s case, his credit in the bank lasts about as long as a One4All voucher.
Still, you can be sure he won’t be alone in giving this assignment a swerve. As the Scottish Open unveiled Rahm, Morikawa and Scheffler in recent weeks, the Irish rolled out Hatton, Pieters and Olesen, the last of whom had been making more headlines in the airways than on the fairways until his British Masters win. Don’t get me wrong, all three are welcomed additions, but when you consider the likes of Rahm and Louie Oosthuizen have teed up in our national Open when hosted on a links course in the past, it does feel like we’re missing a trick by not attracting players with one eye on The Open at St Andrews.
There’s a reason, obviously, that we’re headed to another parkland two weeks out from the Open, while the K Club will host three of the next five renewals after that. Money talks, and for a tournament that’s largely been on fickle footing for the best part of my lifetime, that financial backing brings with it a stability that we must gratefully accept.
Would I like to see the Irish Open on a links? Of course! In its current slot on the schedule, I have no doubt that the tournament would attract a much better field, McIlroy included. And if we’re persisting with parkland venues in future, perhaps a date change to September after the PGA Tour playoffs would suit, bedding in with the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Imagine that for a stretch of golf in 2027 before the Ryder Cup arrives in Adare?
For now though, we must make do with our lot, which, when you sift through the depleted DP World Tour schedule, is actually the envy of most; the $6million prize fund is only bettered by the Scottish Open, the BMW – the tour’s flagship event at Wentworth – and a couple of UAE outliers.
Yet, all that said, I think people have every right to feel disappointed that McIlroy won’t be there. Who wouldn’t want to witness one of the game’s best ever exponents swinging sweetly in the flesh? And he is swinging sweetly. Sure he frustratingly hasn’t added to his four-major haul, but he’s finished second and eighth in his two major starts this year, and he’s the world number 8, which would’ve comfortably made him the best ranked player in the field. So if you’re not reading about Rory McIlroy’s absence and thinking – ‘pity’- then I’d question whether you’re a golf fan at all.
As for those who take it a touch further, personally offended to the point where they feel compelled to resort to online abuse, I’ll end it on two short McIlroy tales from off the course last week at Southern Hills that ultimately won’t change your mind, but will offer a different perspective on this supposed villain of the piece.
One, was when McIlroy came across a picture of himself in the media centre holding aloft the Wanamaker Trophy he won in 2014. He had his daughter, Poppy in his arms and he pointed to his former self and joked, “That’s when daddy used to be good!”
The second was told by McIlroy’s putting coach Brad Faxon who described McIlroy’s way of dealing with the driving range attendant last week. Picking up Rory’s empty baskets, McIlroy showered the kid in so much thanks that they walked away feeling ten feet tall. “What other players do that?” Faxon asked enthusiastically.
Having sculpted the great pyramids of golf balls on driving ranges myself in the past, such basic acts of kindness often made a big difference to my day, but just because they were basic, doesn’t mean they were always forthcoming. Whether your net worth hovers around the $200million mark or dips direly into the red, it costs nothing to be kind.
Just as well McIlroy doesn’t manage his own social media. All the money in the world wouldn’t pay me to put up with the bullshit he’s subjected to on that.