Damned if you do, damned if you don’t — this is obviously a constant “life lesson” theme and one that I’ve faced all too often in the golf media. (I guess it also comes with the territory when you happen to speak your mind.) It appears to also have been a theme for Rory McIlroy — and no, I’m in no way comparing myself to one of the best golfers in the world — that’s apples and oranges, so to speak.
McIlroy, who hails from Northern Ireland, played 18 holes with President Trump this past Sunday at Trump International. According to our friends at No Laying Up, Rory got the invitation via a phone call until Saturday night and hadn’t been planning to tee it up this weekend as he’s still nursing a rib injury:
However, the world no. 3 golfer made an exception for the President and accepted the invitation. McIlroy rode in a cart for all 18 holes with POTUS.
“He probably shot around 80. He’s a decent player for a guy in his 70’s!”
McIlroy also said that he played off the forward tees but did hit some drivers, and that TrackMan was telling him that his swing was nearly at full speed. Rory also confirmed to No Laying Up that his rehab is going according to schedule, and he plans to play in the WGC-Mexico Championship next week as scheduled.
Clear Sports tweeted a picture from their account:
— ClearSports (@ClearSportsLLC) February 19, 2017
No Laying Up also reported that this was just a photo op and the actual foursome included ISM’s Nick Mullen and Rich Levine (a friend of Trump’s).
Apparently, the White House *really* didn’t want people to know POTUS had played golf for a third consecutive weekend and the sixth time in his fledging term as president. WH spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Sunday that Trump played a “few holes,” which contradicted what McIlroy told No Laying Up.
On Monday the White House “clarified” its previous statement after the No Laying Up report and McIlroy’s account surfaced.
“As stated yesterday the President played golf. He intended to play a few holes and decided to play longer. He also had a full day of meetings, calls and interviews for the new NSA, which he is continuing today before returning to Washington D.D tonight.”
I find the whole “controversy” hilarious, but mostly incredibly hypocritical since Trump was so vociferous with his criticism of Obama’s golfing hobby. Trump is way more obsessed with golf than Obama, and we, the golf world, had a strong feeling that was not going to change despite his new responsibilities as the leader of the so-called free world. To improvise a line from advisor Stephen Miller, JUST ASK ANYONE IN THE GOLF MEDIA, IT’S A KNOWN FACT. So, I understand the columns slamming Trump’s hypocrisy — here’s a story that includes all of Trump’s tweets slamming President Obama, along with recent comments that contradict his “theory” on playing golf as POTUS.
What baffles me is the apparent outrage at McIlroy. I know we’re in a new world and we’ve entered a different kind of territory, whereas, regardless of your political stance, the “right” decision has always been that it’s a honor and to put aside your political beliefs. While I have not been shy about voicing my horror and abhorrence to some of the current administration’s policies and actions (and I’ve actually been quite restrained publicly, relatively speaking), I still don’t fault McIlroy for accepting the invitation. If he had tried to make some political statement by refuting it, then there would also be a bevy of stories blasting him for disrespecting the President. It was always a lose-lose situation.
In no way do I think Rory was condoning Trump’s controversial beliefs and policies. He was merely doing what many other athletes and even several high-profile golfers during Trump’s short-term as President or President-Elect, including Tiger Woods and Ernie Els, by deciding to accept the invitation. After all, Rory probably feels like he has to pay the highest office in the land some respect as he now calls America his home and is engaged to marry an American this spring.
I’ve read several columns that strongly criticize Rory for playing with Trump and saying his actions are symbolic or equivalent of him condoning the “travel ban,” among the bevy of arguably messed-up policies that are only sending our country backwards. Rory actively telling Chris Solomon from No Laying Up might be an indication. I can only speculate, but perhaps Rory saw the report that Trump denied playing 18 holes and took things into his own hands. I could definitely see Rory doing that.
I don’t care that Rory played with Trump. I don’t know if I could’ve turned down the invitation as I’m still in the belief that when the President asks, you accept. However, I am truly interested in Rory’s political opinion of President Trump and his administration. Rory is one of the few players that I think like would eloquently and somewhat candidly articulate his views in a thoughtful and informed manner. I’ve long speculated that Rory is one of the few on the PGA Tour who would not have voted for Trump (if he could have voted). I’ve gotten the sense (again, pure speculation and simply from knowing him over the years) that he isn’t the biggest Trump fan.
Let’s go back to 2015 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Trump Doral. McIlroy infamously threw his 3-iron into the pond on the par-5 8th at the Blue Monster. It was quite an epic toss.
As an executive producer of a huge reality show (have you heard of his tremendous, bigly ratings??), Trump naturally took the opportunity to stage an unnecessary horse-and-pony show, where he hired a scuba diver to fish out Rory’s 3-iron, and then made it known that he would be returning the club to Rory on the driving range Sunday before the final round. I happened to be present for the very, very important event that day and I distinctly remember the look on Rory’s face during the whole presentation and handshake, where it *appeared* like he was politely smiling through his teeth while thinking, WTF?!?
Cadillac’s sponsorship of the event at Trump Doral ended after last year and the company opted not to renew. Instead, former Commissioner Tim Finchem (who was a democratic lobbyist during the Carter administration) was approached by a Mexican company to move the elite event to Mexico. What an amazing confluence of events!
Last year after the deal was announced, which included calling the tournament simply, the WGC-Mexico Championship — note: no sponsor name, which just doesn’t happen at PGA Tour events (unless there is no sponsor, which I can only remember occurring like once or twice in the past seven years).
“Well, they’re called the World Golf Championship for a reason,” said McIlroy in his presser ahead of The Memorial Tournament in May 2016. “I always felt that having three of them in the United States wasn’t really spreading the game. So I think that’s good news, you’re getting at least one of those outside the States. And it’s not as if we haven’t been going to Mexico before.
“It’s quite ironic that we’re going to Mexico after being at Doral. We’ll just jump over the wall.”
Last summer I came across an article in The Independent and it included Rory’s thoughts on Brexit (the interview occurred the day after the shocking vote) and referenced the U.S. Presidential Election:
“People are wanting to protect their own, to close their borders,’ McIlroy says. ‘The world would be a much more prosperous place if everyone was able to get along.
“You have Leave saying that we send £350 million to the EU every week and that we should spend it on the NHS instead, but then Farage comes out later and admits he doesn’t know where that money is going to go.
“This is the first year I have really got into politics and I have seen, from following the US presidential election, how people want to become secure and protected against the volatility of Isil and suchlike. That’s the big reason Leave won the day.”
But even before that in the second paragraph of the story, the author noted:
(McIlroy) talks witheringly of Nigel Farage, lightning rod for the Leave campaign, and does little to conceal his distaste for the rise of Donald Trump in America, which he now calls home.
So, yeah, critics, calm down. Let Rory speak and don’t judge him on an invitation that put him in an impossible situation because if he had turned it down, he would have been deemed a millennial snowflake or some politically-charged insult.
Since reading this story, I’ve been interested in hearing McIlroy’s take on politics, but haven’t found the time and place. I would seriously love to have a candid conversation with him on world politics, not just what’s happening in America (though populism has been a trend in Europe and all eyes are on the U.S. because as the leader of the free world, our government’s actions have a ripple effect across the planet).
I would prefer not to have this discussion contained to the sterile environment of a press conference, but hey, Rory doesn’t necessarily hold back regardless of the forum. I guess it’s more that I’m legitimately curious as to what it’s like to talk current events/politics with a high-profile professional golfer (not a retired or Champions Tour guy), and I am truly intrigued with his opinion.
Lucky for me, I’ll (hopefully) have a chance to at least ask him a question next week in Mexico.