Apart from calming fears he could skip the Olympics over Zika — he’s going for sure, it seems — Rory McIlroy has no problem poking a little fun at Donald Trump over the PGA Tour’s decision to move the WGC-Cadillac Championship from Trump Doral in Miami to Mexico City.
At a time when he and the European Tour might have to consider taking the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open to Trump Doonbeg at some point in the not so distant future, the world No 3 had no trouble poking a little fun at the presumptive Republican Party candidate for President of the United States in his pre tournament press conference for the Memorial Tournament in Ohio over the irony of Trump losing out to Mexico.
“Well, they’re called the World Golf Championship for a reason,” he said when asked about the loss of Doral as a tour stop. “I always felt that having three of them in the United States wasn't really spreading the game.
"So I think that's good news, you're getting at least one of those outside the States. And it's not as if we haven't been going to Mexico before. It's quite ironic that we're going to Mexico after being at Doral. We just jump over the wall.”
McIlroy’s comments will resonate given his profile, which is why voicing his fears over the Zika virus in Brazil caused a stir in the days after his Irish Open win.
The 27-year old said he’d read that things “might be worse than they’re saying and I have to monitor that situation” as he and his fiancée might be contemplating starting a family.
Paul McGinley, Ireland’s team leader for golf, immediately said that unless IOC health experts changed their thinking, it was highly unlikely that McIlroy would be pulling out of Rio.
And that’s what appears to be happening after the four time major winner dropped a heavy hint in a question about the WGC move to Mexico by adding that another benefit of playing at 7,500 feet was that "Zika and mosquitoes really isn’t a concern either.”
Nobody followed up on that one for a while until McIlroy was asked to clarify his position on what kind of medical advice would make him pull out of the Olympics.
“I had two dead shoulders for about four days last week because I got my shots and whatever I needed to get for going down there,” he said. "Obviously, there’s no vaccination for Zika.
"I think what the health experts are really worried about, it's not the individual cases. It's the fact that 500,000 people go to Rio, extra people, and they spend three weeks at the Games, they go back out of Rio, and some might have contracted Zika and don't know about it, and then all of a sudden, instead of it being this virus that's contained in a certain part of the world, it's now a global epidemic. And I think that's the real concern.
"So for me to go down there, even if I was to get Zika, it's not -- you know, it's six months, and it's a virus, and it works its way out of your system, and it's nice that we can come back, and feel like you've had some of the symptoms down there, you can get tested for it, and it's either a yes or a no you've had it. It's a virus. It works its way out of your system, and you become immune to it or whatever.
"But, yeah, I'm ready to play. I feel like the advice I've sought out over the past ten days has put my mind at ease and makes me more comfortable going down there knowing that, even if I do contract Zika, it's not the end of the world. It takes six months to pass through your system and you’re fine.”
McIlroy, who will tee it up with world No 2 Jordan Spieth and up and coming star Justin Thomas, dealt with the usual Big Three questions by agreeing with what host Jack Nicklaus said on Tuesday.
It’s not the Big 3. It’s the Big 8. Or 9. Or more.
"You've got the likes of Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Thomas, who we're playing with tomorrow, Brooks Koepka, there's so many great young players out there. We're the top three at the minute. Obviously, we’re working to keep it that way and try to be No. 1, but at the same time, there’s a lot of guys just behind us, if we slip, they want to take that place."
What was more interesting was the question of his demeanour on the golf course, which has hovered between “game face” and morose for a few seasons at this stage.
Even his biggest fan after his mother, his father Gerry, pointed it out when they met at The K Club before the Irish Open began.
"Met mom and dad in the hotel on Monday night, and the first thing my dad said to me is, You looked miserable on the course. I was like, well, I'm not miserable. I'm not happy but -- yeah, it's been a frustrating few months because I feel like my play has been better than the results have been dictating, but at the same time, it's not all about just playing well. You need to play well when it matters, and that's what I was not doing.
"I put myself in position this year to play well going into weekends or final rounds, and not being able to do it, that was the frustrating thing. So to finally get over the line and get that win in Ireland, there was relief in there, but at the same time, to — I never knew how much it meant to me to win at home until I actually did.
"When it hit me and to see all the people supporting out there, it was really cool. I wish I would have had a win earlier than that point of the year, but it was a pretty nice way to get that first one of the year.”
As for the US Open, he plans to visit Oakmont on Monday and Tuesday to check out a course he hears from his peers is “hard, just hard.”
"I know they pride themselves on being the hardest golf course in the United States, and, yeah, you hit it in the bunkers and you've got to go sideways, and you hit it in the rough and you can't get to the green, and even if you hit it on the fairway, it's hard to hit the greens. So obviously, par is going to be very much a premium there.
"I'll be able to tell you more when I go there Monday and Tuesday. I'm looking forward to it. I've heard a lot of good things about it. It will definitely be a challenge, that’s for sure.”
Shortly after McIlroy's news conference, the PGA Tour confirmed on behalf of the International Federation of PGA Tours that the World Golf Championships tournament held in Miami since 2007 will relocate to Mexico City and be renamed the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship, beginning in 2017.
The move is the result of a seven-year agreement through 2023 with Grupo Salinas, a collection of companies based in Mexico City primarily involved in retail, television, telecommunications and other businesses. Grupo Salinas is overseen by founder and chairman Ricardo Salinas and his son, Benjamin.
“Since the debut of the World Golf Championships in 1999, the intent has always been to conduct these tournaments around the world,” said PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem.
“Once it became apparent that we would not be able to secure sponsorship at levels that would sustain the event and help it grow at Trump National Doral, we began having serious discussions with Ricardo and Benjamin Salinas, who expressed strong interest in bringing a tournament to Mexico City to benefit golf and its development throughout Mexico. We are very excited about this new opportunity and what it brings to the World Golf Championships.”
The Mexico Championship will be held at to-be-announced facility March 2-5, 2017.
“With this great championship, Mexico is recognised as a major player in golf,” said Benjamin Salinas, CEO of TV Azteca. “We have some of the best golf courses in the world, and we’ll have the top 50 golfers playing here. We welcome all – sponsors, golfers and audiences – to turn their eyes towards Mexico and discover the vast opportunities it offers to the international community.”
The former Cadillac Championship has been held at Trump National Doral since 2007, with Cadillac serving as the title sponsor since 2011. From 1999 through 2006, the tournament was held in Spain, Ireland, England as well as the U.S.
“We greatly appreciate everything that Cadillac, Trump National Doral and Donald Trump have done for the tournament,” Finchem said.
“Cadillac has been a tremendous sponsor and Donald has been a most gracious host since taking over the property in 2013. In particular, his commitment to renovating the golf course and the overall facility at Doral was especially appreciated by the PGA TOUR and its members.”
“The PGA TOUR has had a wonderful history in greater Miami and at Trump National Doral and we remain interested in returning when the time is right,” Finchem added.