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US Open gives McIlroy chance to leave politics behind and end major drought | Rory McIlroy

US Open gives McIlroy chance to leave politics behind and end major drought | Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy could spend half of his life battling misconceptions had he the inclination or the energy. The latest surround the supposed fury the 34-year-old should have over the extraordinary events of recent days, where aghast onlookers have witnessed the PGA and DP World Tours combine with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) to ensure – in theory at least – peace in our golfing time. A lesson in recent history would be apposite before McIlroy’s position is considered.

The Northern Irishman has cause to be conflicted. He was as stunned by Tuesday’s announcement as everyone bar the handful of individuals who have changed the shape of elite golf for ever. The rest of us required smelling salts. Yet the sense McIlroy was embattled or insistent on continuing war is inaccurate.

“This ‘us versus them’ thing has gotten way out of control,” he said in the Guardian in October. McIlroy did not believe Saudi intentions in golf were bad but that they had been “misguided” in how to spend vast swathes of money; namely on the rebel LIV circuit.

McIlroy is a genius with golf club in hand but far smarter away from the course than he is widely given credit for. He is superb at sizing up people and situations. With this in mind, it is highly plausible he foresaw a settlement between warring factions. It was the nature and timing of it that caused “shock” to the four-time major winner. Far from backing away from ongoing and potentially explosive litigation, PIF has struck a deal with sworn enemies. What next? Joe Biden as Donald Trump’s presidential running mate?

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As the PGA Tour’s most prominent voice in the locker room, McIlroy went above and beyond in public and in private to keep players within the traditional model as LIV offers hovered. Little did McIlroy know that, as he tried to compute desperate disappointment after the Masters in April, the PGA Tour’s commissioner, Jay Monahan, was breaking bread with the very people he had not only resisted for so long but encouraged the Northern Irishman to do on his behalf. Luckily for Monahan, McIlroy is not prone to bearing grudges.

McIlroy is a self-confessed crowd pleaser. He will still be concerned about how his role looks to his peers and the public at large. As a director of the PGA Tour’s player advisory council, McIlroy is well versed in the rantings of no-mark golfers who believe themselves grossly underpaid.

Those who spurned LIV’s advances will be squealing or, more accurately, will want to be compensated for supposed loyalty now it transpires there would have been a route back to the PGA Tour in any case. “All I’ve tried to do is protect what the PGA Tour is and what the PGA Tour stands for,” said McIlroy. “And I think it will continue to do that.” The PGA Tour had a duty to be more protective of McIlroy, including by way of Monahan speaking routinely on his own behalf, long ago.

By the time McIlroy reached the media room at the Canadian Open on Wednesday, he claimed it was the most uncomfortable he had felt in a year. This is a golfer, remember, who was reduced to tears after failing to win the Open last July. “The more that I can focus on the birdies and the bogeys instead of the stuff that’s happened in the boardroom, I’ll be much happier,” McIlroy said.

Rory McIlroy blasts his way out of a bunker at the Canadian Open in Toronto on Friday, where he signed for a bogey-free 67. Photograph: Nathan Denette/AP

It would be a pity if McIlroy – articulate, forthright, well-intentioned – reassesses his public approach. It should also be noted corporate sharks penned golf’s new world order. If McIlroy had a failing, it was in believing Monahan would operate differently to the PIF generals he is now in cahoots with.

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The timing of this drama may do McIlroy no harm. He has previous for prevailing against a backdrop of tumult. Yet in this condensed major season, McIlroy finds himself facing question upon question about sporting politics as the US Open, which begins on Thursday at Los Angeles Country Club, slips into view.

It is an indicator of McIlroy’s talent that his B, C or D game can place him on leaderboards – such as at the US PGA Championship – but the reality is that he had been out of sorts and appeared low on confidence before a bogey-free 67 on Friday in Toronto. This may prove a timely boost.

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There is no course and distance specialism or otherwise to draw on this time. LA Country Club has never staged a major before. This will, in fact, be the first men’s major in the City of Angels for almost three decades. “I have never played there,” said McIlroy.

“I’ll first lay eyes on it on Monday when I get to LA. I’ve watched some videos on YouTube. I know the look of the course and the topography a little bit and sort of what to expect. But you don’t get a real grasp of it until you’re actually out there and your feet are on the ground.”

Collin Morikawa and Scottie Scheffler were part of the successful US Walker Cup team at the same venue in 2017.

No amount of money in the world can make a difference to McIlroy’s life at this point (therein sits another misconception, that is he somehow too affected by dollar signs). But the claiming of a fifth major title, ending an occasional painful wait stretching back to August 2014, would kickstart a fresh chapter in his career.

It would take a weight off his shoulders just as another, relating to golf’s big picture, refuses to budge.

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Ewan Murray

Published: 2023-06-11 07:00:44

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