Late on Monday evening, the captain’s table of the Dublin Journalists Golf Society discussed the enigma that is Rory McIlroy 2013.
The august collection of former captains and presidents of the fine body were gathered on the terrace of the equally fine Hollywood Lakes course in North County Dublin.
Within a stone’s throw of the famous village of Ballyboughal – every green falls to the village they told us – the course just played would test even the best golfers gathered in Carton House for this week’s Irish Open.
McIlroy, a two time major winner as you well know, is among that group of exceptional players set to battle it out for Ireland’s national title between now and Sunday.
And those of us of lesser ability but just as much enthusiasm for the game were only doing what every other golfer in these parts is currently doing as the sun set on Monday – we were dissecting McIlroy after his U.S. Open travails and his ongoing problems since the split from Titleist and the move to Nike in January.
There was and is a lot to talk about on the McIlroy agenda. The rumor mill in media circles is abuzz with tales of McIlroy this week, and all sorts of reasons are being offered as to why he has yet to threaten to win a tournament in 2013.
Some of the stories would make the National Enquirer, others would make a Bible blush. None of them are fit for general consumption in an upright publication like this one.
But that’s what happens when you are public property, when you step across the line that divides amateur hope from professional engagement.
Like it or lump it, McIlroy is guaranteed no privacy whatsoever in Ireland this week. None.
We own him. We deserve to scrutinize his every move. We are entitled to deride him for picking Ireland or Britain or nobody at the next Olympics.
And the “we” I refer to here is the general we, not just the media who will intrude into his life no matter what invitation or barrier he puts up.
That is the way of modern life. Rory earns the big bucks now, and with the big bucks comes a green light for those who like to scrutinize every moment of a celebrity’s life.
If Rory steps into a bar this week in Maynooth, the closest town to the majestic Carton House estate, you can guarantee his photo will be on Twitter before he can say cheese.
If he snaps a club shaft, as he almost did at Merion in the final round of the U.S. Open, it will be across the social media almost as fast as it is across his knee.
If he steps out of line, socially or professionally, it will be hot news before the day is out. That’s life for Rory now, and well he will know it.
So the only place he is going to find any calmness this week, any privacy, is actually going to be the very place where he is most exposed to the Irish public – on the inland links golf course at Carton, the Colin Montgomerie design that will test his desire to lift his national championship.
Once he goes inside the white ropes that divide the crowd from the players, McIlroy will be in the only place in the world where he can control what happens next.
And how he performs in that zone is going to be more intriguing than almost anything else on offer in Co. Kildare this coming weekend.
As discussed late on Monday afternoon, Rory needs a good Irish Open, and the Irish Open needs the real Rory to turn up.
The tournament needs Rory to prove that he can hit the Nike clubs he took up in January for something approaching $150 million in the most lucrative sponsorship deal ever signed by an Irish sport star.
The country needs Rory to prove once and for all that his golf is all that really matters – not his romantic interests, not his allegiance or otherwise for the Olympics, not his penchant for walking off courses, all of which have been in the headlines in the past few months.
Rory can do it. He has the God given talent to take an old niblick club around Carton and still win the Irish Open.
So does Padraig Harrington or Shane Lowry or Graeme McDowell, the other Irishmen who will carry most local expectation into Thursday’s first round.
But the man we all want to win this week, even the skeptics, is Rory.
What better place to taste his first victory as a Nike professional than the grounds of the former Guinness estate?
What better location than the heart of a sporting county like Kildare to prove his ability as possibly the finest golfer this country has ever produced?
And what better way to change the topic of all upcoming Rory McIlroy debates than by winning a championship that has been beyond him for several years now.
McIlroy spoke of winning the Irish Open at Royal Portrush in his native Northern Ireland last year but didn’t. He threatened to win it in Killarney a year earlier and didn’t.
He can win and he can win big. We know that from the U.S. Open and the USPGA, two of the biggest tournaments in world golf.
So let’s see him win on home soil. Let’s see him shut the critics and the doubters up. Let’s see him change the subject to a happy story.
We’ll still be talking about him on Sunday night, even if he wins. But as someone in the PR industry once said, it’s better to be talked about as opposed to not talked about.
And better still to be talked about as an Irish winner in Ireland. How about it Rory?
The civil protests in Brazil have to be a worry for the World Cup organizers ahead of next summer’s tournament as the public complain about the huge cost involved with staging FIFA’s showcase two years before the Olympics. The locals have a point, but some of the football on display at the current Confederations Cup has been a joy to watch, and clearly the teams involved have been inspired by the surroundings. Hopefully a sign of things to come next summer.
Spare a thought for Paul O’Connell and salute his bravery. The giant Limerick man broke his arm in the Lions win over Australia on Saturday, but didn’t even complain until the first test was over. He even contested a scrum with his arm broken. Sadly, O’Connell’s career as a Lions player is now over, but he will be remembered as one of the greats. And one of the bravest.
Some media outlets hailed the latest “Battle of Britain” contest when the Champions League draw threw Celtic in against Belfast’s Cliftonville next month. I think the supporters of both clubs might have something to say about the British tag if you see where I’m coming from!
Wimbledon is back and I really don’t care much, but even I know Rafa Nadal’s defeat to Belgian Steve Darcis on Monday was big news. I wonder did it spoil the cucumber sandwiches and the Pimms for those watching from the corporate boxes in South London.
Nice to see Paul McGinley enjoying some Ulster SFC action last weekend with his dad Michael, a Donegal native. I just wonder who the Ryder Cup captain will shout for if Dublin get to meet Donegal down the line in this year’s All-Ireland championship. Dublin, I suspect.
The Tour de France gets underway this weekend, and we have two real live Irish contenders in Dan Martin and Nicolas Roche, cousins as it happens. Roche’s dad Stephen reckons Dan is a potential Tour winner, and that’s high enough recommendation for me.
SOCCER: The rumor mill is hopping with stories of Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United and Gareth Bale’s move from Spurs to Real Madrid to replace him. The sooner the transfer window closes the better. And that’s still weeks away.
HEROES OF THE WEEK
NOBODY really gave Dublin a chance going into the Leinster SHC semifinal against Kilkenny last Sunday, so to lead by a point inside added time was quite a feat. Okay, so they conceded a last gasp equalizer to TJ Reid, but Dublin rocked Kilkenny with their performance and can complete the job in Portlaoise this Saturday. If they do, it will be one of the biggest shocks in the history of hurling.
IDIOT OF THE WEEK
BRIGHTON Football Club sacked manager Gus Poyet on Sunday night – as he was live on British television, working as a pundit for the BBC on the Confederations Cup tournament in Brazil. It made for great television as Poyet learned of his dismissal in the same manner as the rest of us, but surely the Uruguayan deserved better.