Twitter king Rory McIlroy and the learning curve

Rory McIlroy in action during the first round of this year’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Picture Fran Caffrey/ we tweeted that Time Magazine had included Rory McIlroy in its list of “the top 140 Twitter feeds that are shaping the conversation” he noticed straight away and retweeted: “I like this!”

It’s unusual for McIlroy to miss such a juicy Google Alert in the first place (he’s alerted constantly and reads almost everything written about him) and learn about it second hand on Twitter, where he now has in excess of 162,000 followers.

Judging by the amount of spam followers that Irish Golf Desk received after McIlroy’s retweet, you’d guess that there are quite a few amongst the 162K. His true reach is “only” around 62,000 (see but his tweets get plenty of attention as he gives us an insight into the life of a 21-year old millionaire sportsman with a sense of humour.

Time Magazine certainly noticed and not only is he just one of just ten sports twitterers and the only golfer in the 140-strong list - other include the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Steve Nash and Rio Ferdinand - he got plenty of approval in the on-line poll the magazine conducted to determine whether or not he was worthy of inclusion in the 140.

What mega-twittering golfers such as Ian Poulter or Stewart Cink (with their one million plus followers) will make of McIlroy’s elevation is anyone’s guess. But it says a lot about where McIlroy ranks in popular culture right now. He’s the Bobby Fischer, the Lionel Messi, the Michael Jackson of golf.

His management company complains that their is too much hype around their golden goose yet constantly “sell” interviews to the high profile newspapers, US golf magazines and websites they consider to be most influential. They encouraged him to resign his PGA Tour membership and yet have him playing in Challenge Tour events in Egypt for major appearance fees. As if he needed the money.

McIlroy is not a yes-man, far from it. And he seems happy to live in the celebrity world, to tweet with the big dogs, drive the flash cars and generally enjoy all the trappings that come with fame and fortune. And that’s fine. He says he’s still got the same friends at home and can almost go out on the town unnoticed but that’s not truly the case any more. In essence, he is a young man under major pressure and an “us and them” situation is rapidly emerging.

He’s so consistently good that he has become the world No 8 on the strength of two huge wins and an incredible run of top-10 finishes. Yet he expects more of himself than that and so does the circus that surrounds him. Media included.

His 62 at Quali Hollow, his 63 at St Andrews, the stunning back nine on his Masters debut, the top-3s in majors…. The list of stellar moments grows every six months.

Yet McIlroy is becoming increasingly impatient with himself as he showed in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral two weeks ago, where he threw a club in frustration as he slipped out of contention on the final day and finished tied 10th when he felt he had a chance to win.

That’s pressure. Pure and simple. Pressure to justify your billing as the Great White Hope. If Rory McIlroy wins, well that’s what he was meant to do. If he loses, he loses big time. It’s a no-win situation.

When I asked Paul McGinley about McIlroy recently, he would only go as far as to say that the youngster (“good kid, great kid”) needs to sit back, serve his time and stay patient.

“I sense that he is playing with a lot of pressure on himself and he needs to find a way of taking that pressure off himself,” McGinley said. “A lot of it is going to come from experience. A lot of water is going to have to go under the bridge. A lot of learning curves are going to have to be completed.

“Some guys get there really quick. Some guys take a while. Everyone was complaining about Padraig [Harrington] for such a long time and that he was always coming second. He was always second. This mantra went on all the time. Now nobody mentions it. Nobody remembers unless they were following his career. Bang, bang, bang he wins three majors in a short space of time and everyone has forgotten that.

“Padraig had to come through that learning curve and just like Rory has to go through his learning curve now and soak up as much experience as he can and take it and move on.  He just needs to have the patience to know that. He is a good lad and a smart lad with a really good caddie in JP. I wouldn’t like to see him taking any rash decisions.”  

McIlroy described 2010 as ultimatley disappointing despite finishing third in the Open Championship and the US PGA. If 2011 turns into something similar I think we can expect changes. Just don’t expect to see them on Twitter.