McIlroy looks on the bright side: "I actually think in the long run, Friday will be a blessing in disguise"
Rory McIlroy never claimed to be the paradigm of virtue or the poster boy of perfection that his blue chip sponsors would love him to be.
Apart from his amazing talent, the key to his appeal is what one commentator described as his “authenticity” as a sportsman - the candour, the boyish charm and his insistence on being refreshingly honest, whatever the circumstances.
Loyalty is one of his marked characteristics but in exonerating his new Nike golf clubs from any blame in last Friday’s Honda Classic meltdown and subsequent walk-out, he eroded every so slightly that layer of “authenticity.”
That said, he will be forgiven for that bow to multi-million dollar commercial interest and the 23-year old’s face-to-face with the media in Miami yesterday will still go down as one of the youngster’s most memorable performances, ranking second only to the brutally honest television interview he gave moments after the tearful 80 that cost him the 2011 Masters.
Wearing a pale yellow top, grey slacks and a gray Nike baseball cap, he stuck to the script and mixed humour with honest self-analysis, apologising for his behaviour before recognising that it was a wake-cup call that could prove to be another significant watershed in his career.
When he was bogged down in a mini-slump last season, having missed four cuts out of five, he was reminded by his short game coach Dave Stockton that his demeanour was poor. He wasn’t smiling. He wasn’t playing the game like the kid the world fell in love with on his first competitive visit to the US four years ago. Within days he has won a second major title by eight strokes.
“I actually think in the long run, Friday will be a blessing in disguise,” McIlroy said. “It was like it released a valve and all that pressure that I’ve been putting on myself just went away.
“I’m like, just go out and have fun. It’s not life or death out there. It’s only a game. I’d sort of forgotten that this year.
“I learned that when going gets tough, I’ve got to stick in there a bit more. I’ve got to grind it out. There’s no excuse for quitting and it doesn’t set a good example for the kids watching me, trying to emulate way do.
“It wasn’t good for a whole lot of reasons, for the tournament, the people coming out watching me. I feel like I let a lot of people down with what I did last week, and for that I am very sorry.”
Like a school of sharks ready to detect the slightest whiff of blood in the water, the press wanted answers but McIlroy had a response to every question, starting with last Friday’s contradictions.
Having walked off the course saying he was not “in a good place mentally” he later claimed in an official statement that he was suffering from wisdom tooth pain. Which story was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
“Both,” he said, remaining loyal to his management company. “I wasn’t in a good place with my golf game. Mentally, my head was all over the place. But at the same time, I have been struggling with my lower right wisdom tooth for over a year.
“I had braces on for six months last year to try and relieve a bit of the pressure on it and taking medication until I get home to Northern Ireland and see my dentist, who is the only guy that I would trust to take it out. The tooth was bothering me, but not enough to quit. That’s just the way it is.”
With that unpleasant truth out of the way, McIlroy went on to answer every question that was put to him by the 75-strong media corp during an exchange that last 24 minutes and 23 seconds. There were 10 TV crews and dozens of photographers hanging on every gesture as he repeated what he’d told an on-line American golf publication on Sunday night.
“It was a buildup of high expectations from myself,” he said before admitting that he has plenty to learn about reacting in diversity and not just rebounding from disaster.
“It was a mistake and everyone makes mistakes and I’m learning from them. Some people have the pleasure of making mistakes in private. Most of my mistakes are in the public eye.
“So it is what it is, and I regret what I did. But, you know, it’s over now and it won’t happen again…
“I’m not sure if I can remember if I’ve done it as a kid. I probably have. But I remember I wanted to quit the game a few times when I was a teenager, just because you work so hard at it and sometimes don’t get out of it what you want.
“But I’ve got to remember, I started to play golf because I love it, I really do. It’s been my life for ‑ well, it’s been my life for, my life. I have to remember that.
“I have to go out there and enjoy myself, and it’s the same thing as last summer. Dave Stockton said to me: ‘When I see you out there, you’re not smiling. Smile more.’ And when I smile, it lifts your spirits. Basically, the whole turnaround from last summer was my attitude as well.
“When you start to enjoy your golf, you start to play better and I haven’t been enjoying it because I’ve been putting so much pressure on myself. This week I’m going to enjoy it. I’ve got four rounds, thankfully, and am just going to go out there and have a good time.”
McIlroy broke the ice with his opening remarks thanks to a soft opening question from the moderator and a joke about 10-man Manchester United’s Champions League exit to Real Madrid on Wednesday night.
“I suppose, Rory, just go straight into the heart of the matter here and how disappointed were you with Manchester United’s score yesterday?” the European Tour’s Michael Gibbons asked.
With the room breaking into laughter, McIlroy reflected on Nani’s sending off and that 1-2 defeat for his beloved Red Devils before going into detail on last week’s painful walk out.
“It was not a red card, I’ll tell you that much,” McIlroy insisted before being asked about his auto-expulsion at the Honda Classic.
He said: “I gave myself a red card last week.”
As Tiger Woods pointed out later, there are no red cards in golf. There’s always next week.
“Over the years, I’ve just put it aside and moved on,” Woods said.
McIlroy must now take note and follow suit.