Rory McIlroy / Image from Getty Images
If they hadn’t already, it seems just about everyone has fallen out of love with Rory McIlroy.
I fell out of love once. Actually, I was pushed; heart in smithereens, mind in a thousand places. But it wasn’t losing my first love that made it so difficult; it was the way she cut the cord. With a blunt Swiss Army knife if you must know, her efforts to slowly distance herself proved excruciatingly more painful. All she had to do was tell me she didn’t feel the same way, invent another man, escape on a boat to Australia.
Anything. Instead we went on a break, and she never came back.
Unlike her though, gone a good six years at this stage, I’m pretty confident that Rory McIlroy will come back to the Irish Open. He saved its life as it lay on an operating table after all, its vital organs protruding in tatters when others simply stood there and stared. It doesn’t make his absence any less sobering, but if he could just tell the country what his heart is really feeling rather than stringing us along more in hope than expectation, at least then we could have closure. At least then, we might understand.
Michael Harding wrote a piece in the Irish Times about his beloved friend, Bernard Loughlin. In a moment of great distress during the Troubles, caused by a local DUP politician and in a time, Harding says, “when slander could shorten your life”, he turned to his friend Bernard for advice on what to do.
“You’re a writer,” Bernard said. “So write to the f*****.”
So, he did, with the DUP politician falling silent thereafter. For Harding, it was the greatest lesson he ever learned in writing; “he taught me to write at the cutting edge of terror”.
Now to say Rory McIlroy’s apparent decision to skip this year’s Irish Open at Lahinch is in any way terrorising would be beyond ridiculous. Yet if you were to visit the comment threads on any article about the revelation, you could be forgiven for thinking he’d committed high treason.
With that being said, and Harding’s most beautiful lesson in mind as imparted by his dear friend Brendan, I say write young Rory, write. But if you’re looking for ideas, let me first draft a letter for you:
‘My fellow golfers,
In truth, this is something I should have penned to you sooner but hopefully it’s not too late to explain myself.
After months of toing and froing with a decision that’s not only close to my heart but close to my family and friends and indeed many of you, I have decided to no longer contest this year’s Irish Open. It’s nothing against Lahinch, or the stunning wider-region of County Clare, or even Paul McGinley for that matter. I hate to do this to you Ireland, but it’s not you, it’s me.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell any of you how much the Irish Open means to me. It was a jewel in Ireland’s crown that had sadly lost its shine but in my first year of hosting at Royal County Down in 2015, I knew I could again make it sparkle. I scoured countries far and wide both for funding and friends to come play it and fortunately, thanks in part to my global appeal, many answered my call.
Despite its unbridled success, I knew I could do more, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what. And then it hit me. ‘I have to win the trophy for Ireland.’ It was my Francois Pienaar/Nelson Mandela moment, not on the same political scale but just as inspiring as South Africa’s ’95 World Cup story.
So, in 2016 at The K Club, I did as I was told, saving my best golf for a thrilling finish to delight home crowds, as a man born proudly on this island lifted an Irish Open before them. I even donated my entire winning cheque to charity. And some say I’m skipping Lahinch this year for the money. I can assure you I have enough of it.
In 2017 I thought I’d pass the mantle and who better to seek out than my great friend Jon Rahm, another superstar of the game who would’ve bypassed the event if it wasn’t for me.
But I’m not going to lie to you, carrying the weight of the Irish Open entirely on my back was proving hard work. I was delighted Russell Knox roused the crowd last year at Ballyliffin because for a long while I thought the tournament was teetering away. Hosting can be tough, you know? Expectation more tiresome still, and I knew my enthusiasm was running on empty for an event I’d given my all.
So, for all that went into dragging the Irish Open up from its knees; the tournaments I reluctantly travelled to just to selflessly garner a favour in return, the countless hours spent promoting it to media outlets around the world, securing Rolex as a desperately needed sponsor, the eternal fundraising missions and charitable donations and even the effort that went into getting my name etched on its trophy just to rekindle the event’s prestige that bit more, now, with my head bowed and humble, I’m reaching out to you for one favour in return.
I’m not asking you accept my decision to give Lahinch a miss this year; I’m simply asking you to respect it. For all the talk of green jackets and career grand slams that shadow my every move, I would trade it all to lift the Claret Jug in Northern Ireland at this year’s Open Championship. It’s a Major opportunity as close to home as one might ever venture and a prospective title that I’d rank above any other – including that of a Masters’ green jacket – should I get the win.
In order to give myself the best possible chance, I’ve always maintained that I’d play the week before every Major. I begged Keith Pelley to switch The Irish and The Scottish this year to rid me of this ‘Sophie’s Choice’. Pelley’s refusal gave me little option.. And so, like I have done since 2015 with the now revitalised Irish Open, I’ve had to take the future, my future, into my own hands once more… But at least I’ve left you in good stead too.
In Paul McGinley, the Irish Open has itself a worthy host and my one-year sabbatical in the grand scheme of time will one day matter little. With that said, I hope you can forgive my absence on this occasion and I promise to be back next year to show you what you were missing.
But if you do need any reminding, even just a little, I hope you tuned into the WGC-Mexico Championship on SkySports. I played a blinder!
Rory McIlroy, Ireland’s greatest ever golfer.’