Rory McIlroy Comes Roaring In
Any breath of fresh air in the usually depressing global news cycle is most welcome. What a treat, then, to watch Rory McIlroy shake off the Masters and stage a runaway victory at the U.S. Open.
You don’t have to be much of a golf fan to appreciate this kid.
After more than a decade of grimness and grinding, the anti-Tiger has finally emerged. He plays fast. His swing looks like it came intact from the womb. His trouble shots, which are few, are not staged theatrical productions. Johnny Miller, curmudgeon of the airwaves, calls his putting stroke the best he has ever seen. He smiles.
Even better than all that, he seems to be — well — nice. What more do you want from a 22-year old?
People are going to want a lot. I’d bet the past week was spent hiring lawyers and reading endorsement contracts. Now that Tiger’s supernova has imploded into a black hole, marketers and fans alike are looking for the next superstar. Will it be Rory?
There is a good chance, but it is only a chance. He has a remarkable record of high finishes in majors, including last April’s debacle, but he has never faced the stress and scrutiny that is about to surround him. He is going to be very wealthy very soon. There will be women.
To become that superstar, there must, of course, be more victories — lots of them, and several more majors. There are many talented young golfers out there, and now that Tiger’s lid is clearly off the jar, they will be scrambling for their own victories.
International golf is a grind. The money is fabulous for the elite, but the schedule is brutal and fame is surely wearing. It will take long years of consistent effort through probable slumps and injuries to secure a niche at the top of the game.
Whatever may lie in Rory’s future, he has already done a great service to golf. He has shown that it can be played quickly and efficiently, even at the highest levels. He has shown that it can be fun, and all without conditioning in the U.S. at Wake Forest or Oklahoma. He skipped college altogether and turned pro at 18.
He is the best model for young players since Tom Watson, who plays with similar rapidity, and whose gap-toothed smile signals the Midwestern equivalent of Rory’s Gaelic charm. They also share solid, if unspectacular, physiques in a game increasingly populated by large, conspicuously muscled specimens, keeping hope alive that golf will remain a test of consistency and nerve.
Ours is a planet obsessed with sport. The spectrum of fan behavior runs from cheers to riots everywhere in the world, depending on the outcome of whatever game was just played. Golf has remained largely an exception to that phenomenon, though the Ryder Cup has gotten a bit boisterous and there is that crazy hole in Phoenix. It would be good if golf could remain an island of sanity amid the noise, and take a step back from the uncivil intensity of the Tiger era.
It is certainly heaping a lot of pressure on 22-year-old shoulders to suggest that Rory, at this moment, is the best personification extant of golf’s traditions and virtues, but there you have it. He is.
I hope he can hold it together. I hope he stays in Northern Ireland and doesn’t succumb to the European Tour’s residential emigration to Florida. I hope he marries the girl next door and has six kids. I hope he wins every tournament he enters.
I know I’ll be disappointed in at least some of these hopes, but he’s off to a hell of a start.
Fred Wolferman lives in Southern Pines. Contact him by email at email@example.com.
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