Is there a more divisive golfer on planet Earth than Rory McIlroy, my Twitter algorithm asked me recently, long before the man himself summoned two unlikely birdies in driving Scottish wind to break Robert MacIntyre’s heart.
Believe it or not, it hadn’t been a question I’d ever considered. Colour me biased but I never understood how McIlroy could be polarising. At least not until LIV Golf came around.
Admittedly declaring “I hate LIV” probably alienated those who fight harder for Ian Poulter’s generational wealth than he does, but I’ve always been fascinated by the McIlroy haters; both the begrudgers on this island and now the LIV loyalists further afield.
Remember, these are the same people who, without irony, claim the moral high ground. Golf is golf, they say. The game doesn’t discriminate, and neither do they.
Unless of course, your name’s Rory McIlroy.
At the very least you’d think they’d love to hate one of the game’s greatest exponents. After all, isn’t life so much more interesting with Rory around?
Well, not according to that unnamed LIV executive who claimed every PGA Tour player would receive a renewed Saudi offer, except for McIlroy, because “nobody wants that little bitch”.
I wouldn’t want my name attached to quotes hammering the biggest draw in golf outside Tiger Woods either, to be fair. But this unnamed exec isn’t alone. I’ve seen verified LIV accounts with tens of thousands of followers revel in McIlroy’s latest Major disappointment at the U.S. Open, labelling him a 5’1” leprechaun, which I take exception to, because leprechauns are much shorter than that.
Another question put to Twitter asked people to describe McIlroy in one word. ‘Whiner’, ‘overrated’ and ‘confusing’ were all popular adjectives. And ‘confusing’ I get.
Even as a staunch McIlroy supporter, I can admit that he has a habit of contradicting himself. The most recent example saw him criticise the Travelers Championship for yielding too many birdies. “I don’t particularly like when a tournament is like this,” McIlroy said.
At the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, he said the exact opposite of Bay Hill, wondering how people found it entertaining watching guys making bogeys.
Perhaps par is the porridge just right for Rory?
We’ve also had throwaway lines about the Ryder Cup being an exhibition match. Not wanting to adapt his game for when the wind blows at The Open. And the will-he/won’t-he represent Ireland at the Olympics saga – spoiler alert – he did.
But then another word used to describe McIlroy on Twitter was ‘candid’, and if nothing else, McIlroy has been consistently candid since he first got microphone in hand, fuelling careers for scribes like me with thought-provoking insights, regardless of whether or not you agreed.
You might be surprised to learn that few, if any, interviewees match McIlroy for answers. For my money, Pádraig Harrington is the best in the game but McIlroy is a close second, and after that, well, it can be hard graft to glean much from cliche spouting swingers.
In fact, sometimes you can’t glean anything. I’ve chased many an interview in vain for players who I would’ve thought needed it more than me. There are others so predictable in their responses that I could answer the questions for them. And then there are those who bury treasure and burn the map to the trove.
For a golf writer, an interview with McIlroy is an invite into Aladdin’s Cave. Which is why I’ve found myself scratching my head recently, not just at the naysayers but also myself for not wanting to hear from Rory anymore.
This is when the golf fan takes over from the golf writer. The fan convinced that McIlroy has been too generous with his time, and his answers. Who could do a lot worse than copy the playbook of Leona Maguire and refuse to write a headline no matter how hard the journalists pry.
Scotland was an almighty performance, but the only way McIlroy silences the critics is to add to his four-Major haul, and the only way he gets there is to somewhat silence himself. At LACC, he did just that, removing himself from the firing line and his usual 9am Tuesday morning press conference slot. McIlroy had nothing left to say but ‘no’. A two letter word that could make the difference to the second half of his career. A strategy that almost had the desired impact at LACC where a mix of tentative approach play and poor putting resigned him to a narrow defeat to Wyndham Clark.
He faces the media again at 9am on Tuesday*, back in that familiar slot. And while most scribes will hope for a soundbite, I hope Rory keeps shtum and lets his clubs do the talking this week. What a tune he’s been getting out of them of late.
As for me, I wasn’t financially invested in McIlroy’s U.S. Open bid, and won’t be this week at Hoylake, but emotionally I’ll be there every step of the way. Fully immersed in his mercurial talent. There for the hope as much as the heartbreak. Encapsulated by this fearless man who continues to put his head on the chopping block to relive the glory days of old.
I mean, how could you call yourself a golf fan and not invest in such a topsy-turvy tale? And if McIlroy’s willing to go through 100 more Sundays of disappointment just to taste Major success one more time, then how could I not be too?
I just hope it happens a whole lot sooner, for both our sakes!
(*McIlroy has subsequently cancelled Tuesday’s press conference. I knew he read my articles!)