RIATH AL-SAMARRAI: Wash your hands of it all, Rory, and try to fix your own game, rather than the whole sport
- Rory McIlroy claimed he was a sacrificial lamb after the PGA and LIV golf merger
- The Northern Irishman had been a vocal defender of the PGA amid the dispute
- McIlroy may look to focus on his game rather than be drawn back into its issues
To give a human slant to what we say about moths and flames, you might wish to picture a scene from last Thursday. It was about 7.30am in Toronto, so less than 48 hours on from golf’s strangest day, and Rory McIlroy was stood having a chat with Justin Rose ahead of their first round at the Canadian Open.
Together, they struck upon a sensible agreement to park any discussions about the wild thing that had just happened. Sure, they had a lot to say, and so does everyone else, but their plan was to focus on the chips and putts and at lunch they’d make sense of their mad new world. The reality? They were talking about it by the end of their first hole.
And that’s just the way it has been with McIlroy, still drawn to the same fire that has just burnt him.
Plenty has been said about him in this most astonishing of weeks and much of it veers between nonsense and ridicule. One comment was particularly well suited to the genre and it was shared by the American golf writer, Alan Shipnuck, who has been working on a book about the year his sport soiled its trousers. Its origin was an unnamed member of the LIV executive who, giddy at the merging of cartels, said none of their teams would want McIlroy to play for them. The reason? Because he is a ‘little bitch’.
Of course, that might tell us a bit about the brainpower in one corner of the LIV hierarchy. But it says more about the costs of entering a dung fight: if you win, you will probably still get hit, and if you lose, you get coated in the stuff. After a year at the vanguard, McIlroy just incurred a loss of sorts.
Rory McIlroy, right, and Justin Rose, left, discussed golf’s shock merger during their round
McIlroy had described himself as a ‘sacrificial lamb’ having been a defender of the PGA tour
Or maybe we should phrase that differently — it was more a case of being sold out by the very people at the PGA Tour for whom he was fighting. He had scrapped for them, he leant his mind, time and name to the defence of their territory and, above all, he did not leave for Saudi fortunes. He did not cash out. But they did. A ‘sacrificial lamb’ is how McIlroy described himself, but had he said ‘shafted’, who would have split hairs about it?
The question now, as with any wounded athlete, is how McIlroy responds and whether he finally steps away from an energy-sapping issue that has yanked his ball so far into the long grass.
As the sport attempts to rebuild and rebrand as a happy family, the fear is McIlroy won’t be able to resist being drawn into the skirmishes that lie ahead. The Ryder Cup, compensation for those who stayed, penalties for those who didn’t, the future of Greg Norman, the need for teams, the extra strains on the schedule — these are all future battlegrounds in the house that hate built between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Some fights have stopped because of the merger, but many remain and can you see McIlroy staying out of it when he has been the soundtrack to this hijacking since its very beginning?
He has never succeeded in resisting for long, and that applies as much to when LIV first pitched its seedy tent a year ago, as it does now, when we are confirming what was always suspected: LIV was only ever a Trojan horse to enable the Saudi Arabian takeover of an entire sport. McIlroy has been the source of the most informed and cutting commentary through all of that and, even when he wanted to stop, when his collapsing game screamed at him to let it go, he never overrode his instincts to get involved.
If we rewind a touch, which is to say less than a month, there was a point in May when he realised the time had come for the buttoning of lips. It was at the US PGA Championship and after some uncharacteristically short answers about LIV, I asked him if he was making a conscious decision to retreat from the LIV narrative. Yes, he said, and his one-word answer became the news of the day.
But a little like his stroll with Justin Rose, it wasn’t a long period of silence. A fortnight later, he was asked his views about whether some of the European rebels might be reintegrated for the Ryder Cup and he bit.
Simply put, he cannot help himself. Except now it seems imperative that he really must help himself. And only himself. If he parked the politics, abandoned his role on the PGA Tour’s policy board, ditched their meetings (famously, one in March took seven hours) and occasionally disappointed a few of us in the media by staying quiet, who could blame him?
There has never been a greater need within golf for the players to have a strong voice, to ensure the forthcoming reunion is appropriately managed. In short, a guy like McIlroy. But equally there has never been a clearer argument for him to wash his hands of it once and for all.
McIlroy could be drawn back into lingering issues including the future of LIV’s Greg Norman
The star has joined the likes of Marcus Rashford and Lewis Hamilton in fighting for their causes
McIlroy may now take the moment to focus on his own game rather than fixing the sport
Plainly he has benefited in the upheaval — as a rich man he became richer for his part in co-ordinating some of the PGA Tour’s response to LIV, and it has been noted that some of those measures did little to serve the rank-and-file members. But through it all we have also seen him cross into that slim bracket of elite athletes who, like Andy Murray, Marcus Rashford and Lewis Hamilton, have fought hard for causes they believe in.
They are the kind of sports people I admire most, because they bring others up with them, though invariably the high roads tend to be more draining. Look at McIlroy — with all this going on, we have seen him miss cuts and for months he has drifted along like a slightly lost soul. For those reasons, it feels like the right time for the PGA Tour to be left to clean up its own mess, while McIlroy straightens out his driver and gets a little more control on those wedges and that putter.
At 34, he is for ever reminded that his last of four major wins came in 2014. He will be reminded again this week at the US Open in Los Angeles, and no doubt he will be intriguing on the subject. Likewise he will probably be captivating on the merger, too.
But maybe it is the right moment for him to focus on fixing one and not the other. He can leave golf’s sordid game of Monopoly to those who truly belong in it.
World number one Carlos Alcaraz admitting cramping after suffering from pre-match nerves
The revelation highlighted the mental strain when facing the greatness of Novak Djokovic
By ranking, Carlos Alcaraz is the best tennis player in the world. By the eye test, he has so much going for him at the age of 20 that he might be the next long-term ruler of his sport.
But there are levels, as they say, and on Friday he faced a man 16 years his senior in the French Open semi-final and, after two exceptional sets, Alcaraz’s entire body succumbed to savage cramps. After losing in four sets, the Spaniard said it was all brought on by the extreme pre-match nerves of knowing he’d be in the presence of greatness. In time, he might do that to people. For now, there is no one quite like Novak Djokovic, who on Sunday will attempt to win a record 23rd Slam title.
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