In a recent interview Rory McIlroy admitted that he ‘jumped on the bandwagon’ in using the Zika virus to withdraw from the Olympic Games. In July this year he stated that he ‘didn’t start playing golf to grow the game’.
Each rising professional must adjust to stardom in their own way. Some are better than others – Henrik Stenson springs to mind, along with Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Rickie Fowler.
There are fiery characters, like Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed, and Sergio Garcia, but for the most part there is a mould to the mindset of top-tier professionals.
Fans and media are part of the job, so bite the bullet, smile for the photos, and then get chauffeured to your five-star hotel room.
But something has gone wrong along the way.
A cherub-faced McIlroy grew up in Ireland and watched Tiger Woods dominate from across the pond. His hero changed the game, not just on the course, but through his ineptitude with media appearances and fan interaction.
These days Woods is a shadow of his former self, a broken legend hoping for one last bit of glory. If a young McIlroy saw this side of Eldrick, it’s unlikely that he’d want the same for himself. He’d want to have friends on tour, to be sorely missed when injured, to be revered for his golfing achievements.
He certainly wouldn’t want to be Tiger.
There is so much good stuff for youngsters to see in golf nowadays, from ceremonial tee shots at Augusta National to the #MannequinChallenge put together by the European Tour.
Being ‘bigger than the sport’ didn’t work out for Woods, and if anybody could have done it, he was the man.
In 2013, a season after winning European Tour rookie of the year, Branden Grace parted ways with his caddie Zack Rasego and went on a downward spiral.
Louis Oosthuizen summed up that era of Grace’s career. ‘He thinks he doesn’t need anybody right now, but he’s still young. I’ve been there, Charl (Schwartzel) has been there. He’ll come around,’ said the 2010 Open Champion.
And Grace did come around – in 2014 he reunited with Rasego and by the following season was the highest-ranked South African in the world.
McIlroy is a slightly different beast, but stuck in a similar position. He is one of three players to win three majors before their 25th birthday, topped the world ranking at age 22, and remains unbeatable on his day. All of that doesn’t exclude him from the symbiosis that exists between the players and the game.
The point is this: no one can get everything out of the sport and give nothing in return.
Golf is a mental minefield. Players set extra charges by trying to avoid the necessary commitments. Nobody should expect a player to be flawless, and no player should expect to be above the rules … even if they’re on top of the world.
Come on guys, do it for the kids.