McIlroy planning Haiti trip before US Open

A once exclusive nine-hole golf course, Club Petionvile overlooking Port-au-Prince, was transformed into a refugee camp following the Haiti earthquake that killed 250,000 people. UNICEF Ireland Ambassador Rory McIlroy will undertake what he concedes will be an “eye-opening” visit the living hell that is modern Haiti next week.

And he could be making it as the winner of the Jack Nicklaus run Memorial Tournament after he opened with a superb, six-under par 66 to share the first round lead with Chris Riley at Muirfield Village.

“It’s going to be an eye-opening experience,” said McIlroy, who will head from Haiti to the exclusive Pine Valley Golf Club to continue his US Open preparations. “I don’t really know what to expect.”

Moving from Haiti to Pine Valley is, in the words of CBS Sports golf writer Steve Elling “a seemingly incomprehensible, polarized paradox.”

“You want to associate yourself with a charity that you feel close to, and UNICEF works mainly as a children’s charity, and I feel like I’m the sort of age that I can relate to the younger people,” McIlroy said.

“I just don’t want to really put my name to it, I wanted to do something, and they were very keen for me to go and see somewhere where they’re hands on and they’re working, and it sort of just fit in quite well that I could go to Haiti for a couple of days and see what they do.”

According to Steve Elling:

Before they visit the disease-wracked nation, [McIlroy’s minder, Stuart] Cage said they will be taking malaria pills starting this weekend as a precaution and took a test dose last week to make sure they didn’t have any unintended sife effects. According to estimates, 30,000 residents each year contract malaria. According to another report, 90 percent of children in Haiti are afflicted with water-born diseases or intestinal parasites. The published data on HIV, the number of orphans, life expectancy and the like are positively staggering.  

“It should be quite an experience,” Cage said.

As for McIlroy’s golf, the 22-year old was superb from tee to green and clincal with the putter despite spurning a couple of chances inside 10 feet.

Starting on the back nine, McIlroy birdied the 11th, dropped a shot at the 13th where he was bunkered, but then birdied the 14th and 15th (chipped in) and holed a snaking 15 footer for par on the 18th to turn in two under.

On the back nine, he birdied the third from 10 feet before making three more birdies in a row from the sixth. He even had a nine footer at the last for the outright lead that somehow stayed above ground.

“(I’m) really happy with the way I played today. Got off to a little bit of a scrappy start on my front nine, which was the back nine.

“Got it up-and-down a few times just to keep myself around 1- or 2-under par and then found a few birdies on the way in, which helped me — which was the bulk of my birdies. Yeah, happy with 66, a great way to start the tournament.

“This is one of my favorite weeks of the year, one of my favorite golf courses. I feel as if it really does set up well for me. I like these sort of golf courses, the likes of here and Akron and Quail Hollow. They’re tree-lined, and I sort of feel as if I’m pretty comfortable on courses like that.

“I feel comfortable, and I’m swinging well, I’m hitting it good, and I’m holing a few putts, so hopefully I can keep it going for the next three days.”

Many wonder why McIlroy doesn’t play in the US full time, especially when he say things like this:

“I do prefer this sort of golf where you’ve got to fly it in the air. When there’s no wind and the conditions are as good as they are and the greens are this good, you’re going to give yourself plenty of opportunities.”

But he explained that he simply couldn’t take up his card on both sides of the pond this year and remain fresh (and fit) enough to be competitive.

“I didn’t take my card up at the start of this year, so I was never going to play the minimum amount of events. I played 31 events last year, so that’s part of the reason. I wanted to cut down on my schedule.

It would be, in theory, possible to play both Tours. I did last year. But it took a lot out of me.

“It was a tough decision because I really wanted to come over here and give it a go, but I find — you’ve got to either concentrate on one Tour or the other. If you want to try and either win the FedExCup or the Race to Dubai. I’m just not ready yet to move over to the States and play my golf full-time here, so I stayed in Europe.

“If I won, I’m not sure. I’m really not sure what way that would work. But no, even if I did win, I still — I probably wouldn’t take my card up. Another thing, at the end of — as a European and playing in some European events over the summer, like the French Open and the Irish Open, we have a very busy summer of golf, and I felt like after the PGA last year at Whistling Straits I sort of wanted to take a couple weeks off just to refresh.

“You couldn’t really do it, you had a week off and then straight into the Playoffs. So it was a lot of golf over a short period of time, and I just wanted to do things a little differently this year.”

Heading to Haiti, where diseases such as malaria, cholera and HIV are rife, is certainly doing things differently. McIlroy hadn’t made any public announcements about the trip until he was asked what he planned to do during his week off before the US Open.

“I am going to play this week and then I’m going to Haiti for a couple of days, Monday, Tuesday,” he said. “And then Congressional, going to Congressional Wednesday, Thursday. I’m going up to Bayonne on Friday for a corporate day and then I’m at Pine Valley for the weekend.”

McIlroy deserves praise for having the courage to find out what’s going on in Haiti for himself. If he can make a difference to the lot of the children there, it will have been well worth it.