Rory McIlroy might sit out the rest of 2017. And honestly, I hope he does — it’s the “smart” thing to do, but also easier said than done for any competitor.
Following his final round three-under 68 at the PGA Championship, the four-time major champ revealed he hadn’t been completely honest with the extent to which his rib injury was still affecting him.
“Right now I can feel my left rhomboid going into spasm,” said Rory, who ended up placing T22. “It’s sort of the way it has been the last few weeks. I have upped my practice coming into these two events because I wanted to feel like I was in a good place in my game. But, yeah, right now it’s a tough one because I go out there and play and shoot decent scores, but when I come off the course, I feel my left rhomboid going into spasm. Inside of my left arm goes numb.”
“So I don’t know what to do. I have got this next week off to assess what I need to go forward.”
Since his runner-up finish at a European Tour event in South Africa in January, McIlroy’s back started acting up. He was then diagnosed with a hairline fracture to his rib. Though he took seven-eight weeks away to rest and heal, Rory returned at the WGC-Mexico Championship because he wanted to play the Masters. Then, in May at The Players Championship, he admitted he felt his back flare up again. After sitting on the sidelines for a short stint, he returned at the U.S. Open, where he missed the cut and went through a rough patch before finishing T4 at the Open (though he was never in contention) and then T5 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
“It’s not as bad,” said Rory, when asked to compare the extent of the pain to earlier in the year. “Nor near as bad as THE PLAYERS when it really sort of flared up on me. It’s there. I can feel it. So it’s there and I can play 18 holes, as I said, I warm it up, it’s okay. But once I get done, having to go through the whole routine of getting it ready to go again the next day, you shouldn’t have to do that. If I was injury-free, that wouldn’t happen.”
Rory will fly to Belfast overnight to seek medical advice from his trainer Steve McGregor and discuss the best way to proceed.
“But the more I play, it’s just not allowing that time to heal 100 percent,” he added.
That’s 100% correct. Honestly, I think I wrote or tweeted this at the time, but I remember being a bit surprised in late February/early March when he announced he was returning to play in Mexico. I mean, I’m not a doctor, but I know from my friends who are/were athletes that rib injuries are brutal because you can’t do anything except rest and that is maddening for any competitor.
“An injury like this, it’s eight full weeks of rest before you start to rehab it and then you go again,” said Rory. “I mean, yeah, there’s been — I felt like we took as much time as we needed to at the start of the year. That was basically seven or eight weeks. Got back and playing it felt okay through the Masters.
“I switched it off for a couple of weeks because I was getting married, going on honeymoon. Then once I started practicing again, I didn’t build up the volume gradually. I went from zero to hitting balls from three or four hours a day. That aggravated it a little bit.
“I just haven’t it allowed it the time to fully heal. I wanted to play the season. I feel like I’m capable of playing well and winning and putting rounds together. If I want to challenge on a more consistent basis, I need to get 100 healthy.”
This is a bit of an aside, but I’m looking back to the week of the Honda Classic where I ran into his dad Gerry at Seminole. We chatted for about five minutes and I brought up Rory’s injury and I didn’t think much of it at the time, but when I asked him how he was doing, he kind of shrugged and said Rory was playing in the Member-Pro at Seminole the Monday after the Honda and in Mexico. In other words, it was a non-answer. Maybe it was nothing and I’m overthinking it, but I’ve known Gerry for a long time and he’s a straight-shooter (like Rory).
Anyway. It doesn’t sound like Rory is in a rush–which is a positive–because his focus is on next April for the Masters, where he’ll have another chance to complete the career grand slam.
“It’s tough,” said Rory. “I want to get back into that winner’s circle. You don’t want to be teeing off at 9:45 on the final rounds of a major on a Sunday. That is not where you want to be.
“As I said, I have a good bit of time to get healthy and address a few things going forward. As I said, the next big thing is April and that’s really what my focus will be on from now until then.”
He kept getting pressed on a timetable for his return and he simply doesn’t have an answer, but he was then asked why he *would* play (the better question IMHO).
“I don’t know, I feel like a sense of not duty, but I’ve missed a lot of time already,” said McIlroy. “If I’m capable of playing, I feel like why shouldn’t you. But then at the same time, if you are not capable of playing at your best, why should you play. So, again, it’s a Catch 22. We’ll see what happens. Assess my options in the next few days and see where we go from there.”
Yep. Like I said, it’s extremely difficult to sit out, and yes, competitors do indeed feel a sense of duty to compete and to push themselves even when their bodies are telling them otherwise. It almost feels like you’re a quitter or letting yourself and others down if you sit out because of injury.
Long layoffs and setting the clubs aside for lengthy periods of time — like more than even a few days — are generally not normal for competitive golfers. Even at the junior level, I know I felt panicked if I went even two days without touching a club and had the unrealistic sense of fear that it throw off my rhythm and swing. Athletes tend to ignore signs of physical constraints and almost unknowingly disregard them and play through the pain, so to speak. Even if there’s a tiny voice in their head telling them to back off and rest as to not potentially risk more serious injuries, it’s tough to acknowledge and misinterpret it as a weakness. It’s like your body is telling you to back off, but your brain doesn’t want to accept it, which makes it hard to reconcile and act on the former.
Even though I don’t practice what I preach, I constantly emphasize the importance of remaining patient and making sure you’re fully healed, instead of rushing the recovery process. It’s easy to ignore, particularly when you’re young and can’t comprehend that the consequences are potentially costly — athletes across all sports are forced into early retirement and that’s the most frustrating and maddening thing in the world for a competitor.
I’m not in the very least comparing myself to Rory on any level, but simply sharing a perspective back when I was actually a good player. I remember the first time I withdrew from a tournament. It was my freshman year in college at Yale. We played a lot of tournaments where we played 36 holes the first day and then 18 the next. At Penn State event that fall, which was my first tourney in college with the 36-18 format, I struggled to finish 36 holes and took more anti-inflammatories than any human should ever take.
That evening in my hotel room, on a scale of 1-10, my pain level was, like 12, and I couldn’t even walk. I was unconsolable and sobbing, but not because of the pain — rather at the idea of letting down the team and withdrawing. It was such a foreign thing to me. I felt like I was “quitting.” I couldn’t even bring myself to tell my coach, but eventually, had a teammate ask her to come to our room. It sounds silly, but I felt like the biggest failure and it was emotionally painful to simply say the words that I didn’t think I could play and probably had to withdraw.
I was in a car accident a year earlier at the start of my senior year in high school when I was rear-ended at 30-35mph by a lady driving without insurance or a valid driver’s license who then fled the scene. At the time, I was only 17 and I had never endured a serious injury in my life (with perhaps the exception of a concussion after a bad fall going over a four-foot jump on a horse when I used to ride and compete in hunter-jumper shows).
I only took two weeks off, despite knowing I wasn’t completely healed, but when you’re young, you think you’re invincible. I was still in physical therapy and kept it up for a couple of months, but I was back on the driving range and practicing every day. I never thought the initial injury and accident would become life-altering, and I would live with chronic pain and other debilitating health issues related to the initial injury for at least the next 17 years and probably the rest of my life.
While I know you have to live life without regrets and can’t look back and think ‘woulda, shoulda, coulda,’ I still do. I’ve gotten better at not punishing myself for not taking the injury more seriously and proceeding with caution and taking more time to heal. I guess I’ve also convinced myself that the result would have been the same inevitably because the impact of the accident impacted my central nervous system.
I played for three years in college and I shouldn’t have lasted that long. I only did because I’m stubborn and I felt a sense of duty and commitment. My parents begged me to quit the team for years, but I wouldn’t. I learned to manage the pain better and received multiple types of treatments, but it was still really tough and there hasn’t been a moment where I haven’t been in pain or discomfort — it’s all relative. I eventually got to the point where I had to sit out most of my junior season when I was the captain of the team and the feeling of letting down my teammates in that capacity was worse than the physical pain.
I “rested” for most of the spring portion of our season so that I would be able to compete at the Ivy League Championships. I actually played decent all things considered and finished 3rd or 4th. There was a moment during that event where I finally came to terms and felt at peace with the idea of leaving the team. I had done more than anyone could ask or expect of me and I was playing mediocre golf relative to when I was 16-18. I felt like I had underachieved, but I’d also achieved quite a bit in three years on the team. (I’m not going to list my resume because it’s not that impressive and who cares.)
At that point, there was nothing else I could accomplish other than hurting myself more physically and emotionally. It was an extremely tough decision as a competitor and it was even harder when I started my senior year in college because I felt like I had lost my identity — I didn’t know who I was without golf. That’s a story for another time, though. I’m sure I’ve already overshared and this has nothing to do with Rory who has four major championship titles and his injury, but just thought I’d share some insight into the mindset of a competitor.
To sum, Rory needs to do what’s best for him and it seems like that would be resting and taking as much time as possible to make sure the injury is 100% healed. Besides, like he said, there’s nothing really worth playing for between now and April 2018.