[First published by The Clare People, February 26, 2019]
ON a golf course in Mexico on Sunday, Rory McIlroy found himself in a tricky spot. His ball was flush behind a tree. The referee ruled that McIlroy was not entitled to relief, requiring the four-time Major winner to execute an awkward-looking hook shot to get back to the fairway.
That hole, as with the tournament, didn’t go Rory’s way. He finished in second place, five shots behind the American, Dustin Johnson.
The tricky spot McIlroy found himself in Mexico came just a few days after he ventured into similarly awkward territory by announcing that he would not be taking part in the 2019 Irish Open in Lahinch.
McIlroy’s reasoning was clear and understandable. The British Open is being held this year in his native Northern Ireland in Royal Portrush, a golf course McIlroy knows by heart.
His preparations for what he said could be the biggest event of his sporting life do not, apparently, include a stop in Lahinch.
Instead, McIlroy intends to tune up for the Major by playing the Scottish Open – competing in Lahinch would mean the British Open would be his third week in a row.
“For me, that’s not the best way to prepare for what could be the biggest event in my life,” he said last week.
A reasonable line of thought for a sportsman of McIlroy’s ambition. But this being McIlroy and this being anything to do with Ireland and Britain, there were some strong opinions.
There were sneering comments online about McIlroy’s priority of the British Open over the Irish Open – a tournament his support brought back to relevance and stature in recent years.
It was the type of glib stuff about complex issues like nationality and identity that have been fired at McIlroy throughout his career.
It’s a pity that perhaps the greatest golfer this island has produced won’t be in Lahinch, but the show will go on as one of the biggest events on the European golfing calendar comes to town.
Perhaps Rory should have said he wasn’t coming to Lahinch because he couldn’t face the traffic at Blake’s Corner. Nobody in their right mind could give out to him about that.