Jan
8
2017
Rory McIlroy delves into truth on skipping the Olympics
By Stephanie Wei under Rory McIlroy

 

I don’t care what anyone says, but Rory McIlroy is just the best. As members of the media, we’re “supposed” to be “non-partisan,” but please, if you are actually naive to believe that *every* single journalist does not have bias, then I’m sorry to be the one to break this to you: EVERYONE DOES. Sure, you can write a piece without any bias — a straight-up report or game story, but I’ll guarantee you that it was boring as hell and you may even dose off before finishing getting through the whole article.

So I will not deny that Rory is my favorite player to cover on Tour. He’s an all-around genuinely good individual and treats people with respect (even the media). He is a rarity amongst not only golfers but professional athletes. And if you’re going to hold that against me, then you’re reading the wrong website. (I can point you to many others that will write the same old boring cliched BS.)

The Independent‘s Paul Kimmage recently sat down for an intimate interview with Rory in Dublin and it’s by far the best thing I’ve read in golf in months. It’s real and it’s why I think he’s the best. It’s mostly a transcript of the conversation between Kimmage and McIlroy about everything, but the most intriguing part is McIlroy detailing his thoughts during the most amazing press conference ever — the one he gave ahead of the Open Championship at Royal Troon — where he basically just let it rip. It was obvious that he was irritated with the grilling over the Olympics and just the Olympics issue in general, so his tongue was sharper than usual. Unfortunately, a great majority took what he said with extreme offense, which I thought was strange because if you’ve covered Rory over the years, then you know he’s the most gracious, genuine and down-to-earth superstar you may ever come across.

I felt like I spent most of the week defending Rory and “apologizing” on his behalf. I kept saying his full quote wasn’t published in most outlets and that we weren’t looking at the full picture and context, particularly the drawn-out decision over which country he’d represent, which went on for years. I debated anyone and everyone who would talk about it.

I even shut down Brandel Chamblee when I ran into him at the media center, and you know what he said after I gave my passionate defense in response to the sharp critique of McIlroy he’d dished on Golf Channel? “You should’ve been sitting in the chair next to me.” (One of the main reasons I’ve always respected Brandel is that if you give a solid argument, he will give you credit and is more than open to it. I’m not saying he agreed with everything I said, but he listened, smiled and respected my line of reasoning.)

I defended and explained McIlroy’s Olympics/”grow-the-game” comments to the death. I wasted hours on Twitter replying to everyone that I didn’t even finish my rant on my site. It’s not just because I’m a Rory homer. If it had been anyone else I knew and understood to that extent, I would’ve done the same thing. I guess it’s just been years of covering Rory and getting to know him in his early days on the PGA Tour that provide this context.

He’s human. And he speaks his mind and since 2011 and for as long as I can remember, he has said that he will never change. This is rare. Lots of players say this, but it’s a hard promise to keep. You grow scar tissue from being too honest sometimes and burned, but Rory just can’t help being who he is and even if you disagree with his perspective at times, respect that he’s genuine and doesn’t hide behind a bunch of boring PR crap that most players do.

One of the main points in my overly impassioned defense of Rory’s comments on the Olympics was the unfair and no-win situation he was put in because of the complicated history of his “identity” as Irish or Northern Irish (and thus, British). Rory is from Belfast in Northern Ireland, so he’s technically British, but he was brought up in the Irish golfing union (aka they funded his training as a junior golfer, etc.). Few can even fathom the strange, sensitive situation.

Before we delve into the awesomeness of this recent article, here are Rory’s comments that caused such an uproar last July:

Q. Jordan just said a little while ago that pulling out of the Olympics is the most difficult decision that he’s ever made. He’ll agonize watching the opening ceremony and you guys competing. I know it’s been a few weeks, but do you have any sadness, any disappointment? Secondly, do you guys feel that maybe you’ve let the game down a little bit considering non-golf fans will be watching in Rio?
RORY McILROY: Honestly, I don’t think it was as difficult a decision for me as it was for him. I don’t feel like I’ve let the game down at all. I didn’t get into golf to try and grow the game. I got into golf to win championships and win major championships, and all of a sudden you get to this point and there is a responsibility on you to grow the game, and I get that. But at the same time that’s not the reason that I got into golf. I got into golf to win. I didn’t get into golf to get other people into the game.

But, look, I get where different people come from and different people have different opinions. But I’m very happy with the decision that I’ve made and I have no regrets about it. I’ll probably watch the Olympics, but I’m not sure golf will be one of the events I watch.

Q. Which events will you watch in that case?
RORY McILROY: Probably the events like track and field, swimming, diving, the stuff that matters.

I’ve already made my views on the blanket “grow the game” statement. I get it, but Rory does plenty already to “grow the game,” and frankly, I was disappointed when most media outlets only used the first part of his quote. Sure, he should’ve worded it better. He admitted to that, but it’s the truth. At no point when you’re a kid, do you think to yourself, “I want to become one of the best golfers in the world to GROW THE GAME.”

As a top player, Rory understands his position and responsibility as a role model. He does way more than almost anyone. He’s great with fans. He’s engaging in interviews. He saved the effing Irish Open. He has done more for golf in Ireland than any player in recent history (sorry, Padraig Harrington). He is actively involved with his foundation and to my understanding, it actually does real stuff to make a difference (like helping to save the Irish Open) — it’s not just a tax write-off as it sadly is for some.

And let’s be real, how do you *really* quantify how much an individual player “grows the game”? What does that term mean exactly? I think it means in general drawing more interest to golf, serving as an ambassador to the game and perhaps even getting more people to take up a game — with the latter being something Tiger Woods couldn’t even do.

But that’s besides my main point: last July, I pointed out that Rory had been harassed about “which country” he would represent in the Olympics for four years. I mean, practically since the moment it was announced that golf was returning to the 2016 Olympics, Rory was the only player who had to deal with that awkward question, which was loaded beyond what most can even try to begin to comprehend. If he answered, “Ireland,” there would be people incensed. And if he said, “Britain,” even more people would have been upset because many argued he “owed” the Irish Golfing Union for supporting him as a junior golfer. It was always a no-win situation.

I speculated that Rory had grown disdain for the Olympics because of the controversy over which country he would represent. (And yes, I love saying, hey, guess what, I was right, because who doesn’t love to be right? It only happens occasionally!)

OK, yeah, so a thousand words later, let’s get to the recent story I’m referencing: Rory reveals to Kimmage his thinking before he decided to go nuclear in the pre-tourney presser:

RM: Well, I’d had nothing but questions about the Olympics – ‘the Olympics, the Olympics, the Olympics’ – and it was just one question too far. I’d said what I needed to say. I’d got myself out of it, and it comes up again. And I could feel it. I could just feel myself go ‘Poom!’ and I thought: ‘I’m going to let them have it.’

PK: (Laughs)

RM: Okay, I went a bit far. But I hate that term ‘growing the game’. Do you ever hear that in other sports? In tennis? Football? ‘Let’s grow the game’. I mean, golf was here long before we were, and it’s going to be here long after we’re gone. So I don’t get that, but I probably went a bit overboard.

PK: They were goading you.

RM: Yeah, but maybe I shouldn’t have reacted in the way that I did. But Olympic golf to me doesn’t mean that much – it really doesn’t. I don’t get excited about it. And people can disagree, and have a different opinion, and that’s totally fine. Each to their own.

Here we go with the country/representation issue:

RM: Yeah, I mean when it was announced (that golf was to be an Olympic sport) in 2009 or whatever, all of a sudden it put me in a position where I had to question who I am. Who am I? Where am I from? Where do my loyalties lie? Who am I going to play for? Who do I not want to piss off the most? I started to resent it. And I do. I resent the Olympic Games because of the position it put me in – that’s my feeling towards it – and whether that’s right or wrong, it’s how I feel.

Rory elaborates with an anecdote of a text conversation he had with Justin Rose after sending him a congratulatory text for winning the gold.

RM: I sent Justin Rose a text after he won, I think I still have the message: ‘I’m happy for you, mate. I saw how much it means to you. Congratulations.’ He said: ‘Thanks very much. All the boys here want to know do you feel like you missed out?’ I said: ‘Justin, if I had been on the podium (listening) to the Irish national anthem as that flag went up, or the British national anthem as that flag went up, I would have felt uncomfortable either way.’ I don’t know the words to either anthem; I don’t feel a connection to either flag; I don’t want it to be about flags; I’ve tried to stay away from that.

PK: Sure.

RM: Not everyone is (driven by) nationalism and patriotism and that’s never been me, because I felt like I grew up in a place where I wasn’t allowed to be. It was suppressed. I’m very conflicted because I’m a Catholic and . . .

There we go. Explained. Most of us have no idea what that is like. The closest thing I can relate to is the very tense, politically sensitive issue with China and Taiwan. Without going into a history lesson, my mom was born and raised in Taiwan, but we’re Chinese, whereas I have a number of friends who identify as “Taiwanese” — and some will even militantly correct people if called “Chinese” — because their families lived in Taiwan pre-1949, where both my mom and dad’s families fled as refugees with the Nationalist Army after Mao and the Communists declared victory in a long, ugly civil war. It’s confusing, though, and it’s sensitive that I get the dirtiest looks from my mom (and berated) if I mention the topic too loudly in public places around the wrong audience. But even that’s not the same as the complicated situation Rory faced. I mean, I bet he was almost relieved when Zika became like an acceptable excuse.

As Americans, we will never fully understand these controversies that are loaded with so much pain and blood over decades and centuries. But we can try. Does Rory explanation change your opinion of his original comments if you reacted negatively to them at the time? Does the background help? Does trying to empathize with a lose-lose situation where you’re going to piss people off no matter what you decide put it into better context? It wasn’t rocket science to figure this out, but it’s easy to react and jump on Rory. I’m not innocent of being reactionary to situations that I don’t fully understand, but this was a rare one that I guess I did.

I recommend reading the full article/interview in The Independent. He talks about other things, too, like, life and Tiger Woods, etc.