After 18 hours of travel across the planet, I was pretty much giddy when the plane landed in Abu Dhabi. I had finally made it to the Middle East, a region of the world I had yet to visit, and as someone who enjoys exploring new places and cultures, I was beyond excited. Then, I turned on my phone and first thing I saw was an email announcing Rory McIlroy had withdrawn from this week’s tournament due to a rib injury — a stress fracture, to be exact. Which, to my understanding, is extremely frustrating because the only prescription at this point is straight-up rest for an average of 4-6 weeks.
Talk about a buzz kill. My reaction is summed up pretty well in the photo above. But hey, I wasn’t going to let that minor detail — like the main draw of the tournament, which boasts the best field on the European Tour all year, pulling out! After all, I’m in Abu Dhabi!
Before I start raving about this tournament and city, let’s quickly discuss Rory’s injury. According to the internet, which, of course, is the absolute most *reliable* place to research any type of medical ailment, a rib stress fracture is rare. The cause given by Rory’s team was lengthy periods spent on the range beating balls while testing new equipment during the holiday season. The internet says this injury can be caused by sports that require “repetitive vigorous shoulder motion,” like golf, but it most commonly occurs among rowers or track and field athletes. His vigorous gym routine perhaps contributed to the injury. (Cue for Johnny Miller to chime in about Rory not winning majors as frequently because he’s spending too much time building muscles to fit into tight shirts.) “A sudden increase in weightlifting or training could predispose to stress fractures,” according to SportsMD.com (which surely doesn’t cause people to come up with crazy self-diagnoses like WebMD).
Despite citing back pain — which is a common symptom in rib stress fractures — during the South African Open last week, he still nearly won the damn tournament, but eventually lost on the third playoff hole to Graeme Storm.
Again, as I mentioned above, this injury sucks mostly because there’s no exact timeline or cure other than waiting it out. From our medical expert SportsMD.com:
The key is “relative rest” which means don’t do anything that causes significant pain or discomfort. The goal is to let the rib rest so it can heal itself. If stress is continually placed on it, it never gets a chance to heal. This usually means a period of 4-6 weeks without throwing or weightlifting with the affected shoulder, but lower body workouts can usually be continued without interruption or they can be modified so they do not cause rib pain.
Once there is no pain during regular activities, then light lifting and throwing, or other sport specific activities, can be gradually added. If pain recurs, then the athlete must back off again and give it more time.
Other important elements of treatment include analyzing the training program, rest, and body mechanics of the athlete to identify and correct any contributing factors.
Oh, I bet Rory was even more pumped when he heard about that treatment plan if we’re assuming SportsMD.com is actually somewhat reliable. No, but in all seriousness, from what I understand, because, you know, I have a medical degree, that’s basically all you can do. Just wait it out, which is the most maddening thing for any athlete, but I imagine even more so for Rory. Given this timeline, it’s doubtful he’ll be able to play in Dubai the week after next. And actually, we really have no clue when he’ll recover because the danger in coming back too soon is to create more damage and a longer layoff. While Rory is known to recover quickly from injuries in the past, who knows with this new one, especially since the risk of not healing 100% isn’t worth it.
“It’s bitterly disappointing to have to withdraw from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship,” said McIlroy in a statement. “I think everyone knows how much I love playing this tournament, which is one of the best on the European Tour thanks to the incredible support of HSBC and the Abu Dhabi Sports Council. To be forced to miss this week through injury is really quite annoying to be perfectly honest, but I am sure the tournament will be a huge success and I hope everyone involved has a great week.
“In situations like this you simply have to listen to the experts and the team I have consulted have all advised me to rest until my rib has fully recovered.”
I think he probably had much stronger words than “really quite annoying.” Oh, man, not good. Hope he has a super speedy recovery — fingers crossed!
It’s only been about 24 hours (and yes, it’s beyond late here, but jet lag sucks and I continue to gain more and more respect for the European Tour players who travel across the planet regularly from week-to-week — and it’s important to note that unlike their contemporaries on the PGA Tour, most of the guys out here are flying coach, like us media peasants!), but consider me a fan. Everyone has been incredibly nice and gracious. This morning I was practically forced into a courtesy car by the hotel staff after repeatedly asking for the media shuttle and telling them I shouldn’t be riding in the fancy Mercedes. Language barrier, what can you do — I finally gave in and then called the tournament organizers in a panic to alert them. (I forgot momentarily that this was the European Tour.)
And yes, I’ve only seen the airport, my yuge room at a hotel resembling a very nice Marriott (which apparently has an awesome private beach that I haven’t had the chance to check out yet), the not-so-scenic short ride on the large road with very wide lanes that make America’s resemble the country roads in Europe, and then finally, the gorgeous facilities at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. The media center is inside the Westin that is on property, but naturally because we’re outside of the U.S., this ain’t your standard Westin (which, I know, are already quite nice). This Westin would be more in the St. Regis or Four Seasons category if we were in America. The futuristic clubhouse is beautiful and the practice facilities are absolutely phenomenal and so dreamy that I was almost inspired to hit a thousands of range balls, 200 bunker shots within two feet from two different spots, 100 pitches from at least three different distances to within three feet and putt until my hands bled.
With the music blasting on the range, it was a very pleasant environment and it was nice to be greeted by some friendly faces I hadn’t seen in a while and not be treated like a media leper. Oh, and the weather! Just absolutely perfect. It was around 70-75 degrees all day and no humidity. It was a bit windy on the course, but nothing crazy. I’d say it was ideal golfing weather.
It’s late here, so I can’t make this a 3,000 word column — I’ll try to keep it to 1,000. OK, fine, 2,000. Let’s do this efficiently and quickly, kids!
Well, longtime WUP readers know that the regulations on the European Tour provide me much more leeway to bring you closer to the players and better behind-the-scenes coverage that you don’t get anywhere else. Naturally, I turned to
my usual guinea pig WUP’s resident Euro Tour pro Robert Rock! He’s weird and actually enjoys doing these kinds of things that most players on the other side of the pond would never volunteer for in a million years. It’s great for our purposes, though, right?
Here are a few examples of how Rocky just kind of beats to his own drum. First, he identifies more as an instructor/teacher before a professional golfer. Which, again, is perfect for what I’m trying to accomplish by bringing you guys a different, more intimate perspective on tour. Second, he waits for people. Tour pros don’t generally wait period. I’m not going to say how late I was this morning, but let’s just say, more than an hour. My bad. I mean, jet lag and stuff.
On the range I noticed Rocky had a new golf bag — it was a Jones bag. I have a few of them and they’re awesome, especially the carry bag. You guys know what I’m talking about, right? At first, I was like, Oh, nice, you got a new sponsor! But then I quickly corrected myself and thought, actually, no, he’s probably not even getting paid. So I asked and he confirmed that he was not. “I just like it,” he said. He bought one of their carry bags and then contacted Jones and asked if they made staff bags. The answer was no, but they do make “cart bags,” which was good enough for his purposes. And that is how Rocky started using a Jones bag.
I don’t even know why I ask him these questions anymore because I know the answer and how “different” he is. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if he started using a Jones carry bag. On the European Tour, it isn’t uncommon for players to not get paid for carrying a Tour bag with the manufacturer’s logo, but on the PGA Tour, pigs would fly first before such a blasphemous thing happened.
Here are some pictures! (Sorry, they’re not the best quality, but you’ll get an idea and see how it definitely stands out compared to the average or every other bag on the range.)
Just a random aside: First player I saw when I got to the course was the always delightful Kiradech Aphibarnrat. To my surprise, he was wearing shorts! Naturally, I commented right away, because I’m a moron and forgot that the European Tour had implemented the new policy of allowing players to wear shorts during practice round days at this event last year. Duh. It was still weird to see guys like Lee Westwood in shorts at a big tour event, but I’m not hating — I think it’s perfectly cool and fine if the players wear shorts. It doesn’t make a difference to me. I’m not going to think they’re less professional!
(I keep wanting to insert crying laughing face emojis, but I hope at this point you know how I’m messing around most of the time if I say something totally ridiculous. If not, you should, and when in doubt, go with “she’s joking/being sarcastic, etc.”)
Now, for my favorite part of the program! Walking the practice round and chatting with the players — by that, I mean, our resident pro Robert Rock and whomever he’s playing with! As you may recall, Rock had a big win at this event five years ago at the 2012 edition of the Abu Dhabi Championship. He took down Tiger Woods in a head-to-head battle essentially in the final round. We began talking about it on the 10th hole — he just played the back nine — because he had a funny story from that eventful day. The best part about Rocky is he’s very candid and not afraid to admit things that other pros might. And he’s an engaging storyteller.
If you can’t watch them on the Periscope app, I uploaded the live-streams onto YouTube for your convenience. By the way, I think tomorrow I’m going to use Facebook Live, so if you’re not following me there, you can do that now.
Here we go:
I labeled “Part 2” as the last segment, the 18th hole, because Rocky takes us through the play-by-play of how he managed to bogey the par-5, but that round comes up at times in these two other segments, so let’s just do this in order.
Finally, Rocky relives the 72nd hole of the 2012 Abu Dhabi Championship… I actually do remember that being quite the exciting final round (and when his hair looked much better than it does now! — hey, it’s all good, age happens to all of us. And don’t worry, I told him this to his face already and he didn’t cry.).
For those who watched all the 2015 editions of Periscope practice rounds with Robert Rock, you may notice that video is much less shaky!!! Well, I do listen and try to catch all your comments, so I did my best to fix that problem and bought a stabilizer stick/tripod thing. And all day I got made fun of having a “selfie stick” — the sacrifices I make to give you guys what you want! I’m totally kidding. I’m fully aware I have shaky hands and the stabilizer stick made it much easier on me, too, so thank you. Unfortunately, I forgot the other gadget — a mic with a wind stopper (or whatever it’s called). I left it in the media center, so apologies if the sound is not great at times because of the wind. I will remember that tomorrow! (Even though I’m not allowed to Periscope on the course because of the pro-am, if I recall correctly, but I’ll double-check… I don’t really want to Periscope the pro-am, anyway, though!)
WE’RE ALMOST DONE. So, a colleague texted me Sunday and told me that the tournament would have walk-up music for each player as they were announced on the first tee. Well, unfortunately, that didn’t work out completely because of music rights and the complications that come with that and some networks having the rights to certain music and others not. However, HSBC and the European Tour came up with Plan B. Well, there’s music blasting on the range and that will continue all week long.
On Tuesday afternoon, DJ Reggie Yates tried to give some of the top names in the field a mixing lesson. Defending champion Rickie Fowler, world no. 3 Dustin Johnson, world no. 4 Henrik Stenson and Ian Poulter all had a go with spinning or mixing or whatever. I couldn’t really tell how they did, but the expressions on their face weren’t ones of confidence per se. It was fun to watch, though.
This is all part of HSBC’s long-running ‘Anyone’s Game’ campaign to attract a younger audience to golf and tear down the longtime negative stereotypes that it’s stuffy, elitist sport. Errr… I’m not saying these initiatives aren’t awesome and great, and I’m fully supportive of them, but there’s a lot more that needs to happen besides shorts and music to improve and change golf’s image.
Alongside the DJ masterclass for the star players, the event will also treat spectators to a noisy and electric atmosphere on the final day as music will accompany the players as they approach the first tee. DJ decks on the driving range and special DJ appearances, featuring the players’ personally chosen song playlists throughout the week, will guarantee an electrifying atmosphere at what is being billed the premier golf tournament in the Middle East.
The activity – part of HSBC’s long-running ‘Anyone’s Game’ campaign – aims to combine the twin passion points of music and sport to create a truly memorable and game-changing experience to help attract a new, younger audience. By innovating with new formats and different kinds of fan engagement, HSBC is continuing to open up the world of golf.
Here are some fun pics…
I think some of these deserve captions! There are more photos and videos on my SnapChat (username: stephwei) and Twitter, so go check those out if you haven’t already. And don’t forget, Facebook Live or Instagram Live tomorrow! — be there! The time difference obviously makes things a little tough, but we’ll figure it out.
MORE GOOD NEWS. Since before I arrived in Abu Dhabi, a bunch of people were telling me I should stay for the tournament in Dubai the week after next. You know, the one that Tiger Woods is playing in to kick off the new year. I was like, meh, I don’t know, that’s a long time to be away. And then, naturally, on Tuesday, more people said the same thing and made some pretty convincing arguments. I finally said, hell, why the f**k not?! I’m in!
I have friends from college in Dubai (hopefully one of them will take me in for a week) and like I’ve said, if my (private personal) Facebook timeline has taught me anything, it’s to do these types of things and travel and live and explore as much as possible because at some point in life, I probably won’t be able to just make impulsive decisions like this, so, YOLO. I’m pumped.
It’s beyond late and I broke my promise… We’re up to nearly 3,000 words. Dammit. I gotta stop this crap. Peace from the Middle East! See, I’m delirious. K, bye.