As Masters approaches, McGinley fears for Rory after Trump backlash: "He doesn't need this noise"

As Masters approaches, McGinley fears for Rory after Trump backlash: "He doesn't need this noise"
 1 March 2017; Paul McGinley leads Sky Sports’ coverage of the US Masters 2017. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

1 March 2017; Paul McGinley leads Sky Sports’ coverage of the US Masters 2017. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Paul McGinley is always careful when it comes to criticism of Rory McIlroy but he believes the Holywood idol should run a mile from all talk of Donald Trump if he's to focus fully on winning the Masters and a place in golfing history.

The astute, 2014 Ryder Cup skipper will be in the Sky Sports studio at Augusta National next month, hoping to see the Co Down man join the pantheon of immortals —Jack Nicklaus (3 times), Tiger Woods (3 times), Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen— who have completed the career Grand Slam of all four majors.

Insisting he has no fears for McIroy's rib injury, McGinley did admit he is concerned at the level of "noise" surrounding the Ulsterman's recent round with the controversial US President.

And he went even further, suggesting that McIlroy's keenness to engage with media in a meaningful way sometimes leads to a tendency to jump in to give his opinion on controversial issues at the wrong time.

"Of course, it’s a worry," McGinley said of the possibility that the Trump controversy could follow McIlroy all the way up Magnolia Lane.

"He got involved with the debate about the Olympics just before the British Open Championship last year, the day before the tournament, and of course it affected his performance in the week.

"It can’t help, put it that way. Although he came fifth in the Open championship, he didn’t really contend. I know that two guys ran away from the field.

"You look to Tiger, what he did in his career. He was there purely focussed on winning golf tournaments. I’m not being critical of Rory: I think his position that he’s taken in the media, it’s great because he’s so insightful and he’s so honest.

"I think he opens up a lot of questions and he likes to be a spokesperson for a lot of issues and he likes to give his views. It makes him a very interesting character and people are very interested in him. 

"But it has a downside in terms of it creates noise when there are controversial issues like this.

"Fuel keeps being added to the fire the more questions there are, on and on it goes. I want to see him focussing on his golf in the next four or five weeks, and then getting down to joining history."

Surprised at the vehemence of the backlash against McIlroy when Jack Nicklaus admitted voting for him and Ernie Els and Tiger Woods played golf with him, McGinley's is amazed they escaped any criticism for the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

McIlroy, on the other hand, has been roundly criticised and there is a chance it could take his eye off the ball.

"It is a tough one," McGinley said at a media conference to announce that  Sky Sports’ live coverage of the 2017 Masters, beginning on April 3.

 Sky Sports’ live coverage of the 2017 Masters in Augusta gets underway on April 5th with expert insight and analysis from former Ryder Cup captain, Paul McGinley, and coach, Butch Harmon. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Sky Sports’ live coverage of the 2017 Masters in Augusta gets underway on April 5th with expert insight and analysis from former Ryder Cup captain, Paul McGinley, and coach, Butch Harmon. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

"Rory is trying to get ready to make history by  winning the Masters. He can join only five people in the history of the game who have ever done this and become a Grand Slam winner. 

"I think it is disappointing that this noise doesn’t seem to be abating, looking at his press conference yesterday again. It dominated his press conference again, and in preparation for the Masters, this is not a noise you really want to have. 

"He will be focussing on his injury, focussing on his game. He has walked into a storm, and I certainly won’t be critical of him, but I think it has taken him by surprise, and it has taken a lot of people by surprise, the vitriol that he has received. 

"He was in a no-win situation, and that's the problem. When you get asked by the President of the United States to go and play a game of golf, it's very hard to say no. That's what Pádraig said, and I agree fully with Pádraig.

"How do you turn down the office of the Presidency of the United States? If he hadn't played, he would have been taking a very strong political position, which would have created a lot of furore in the other direction.

"And the thing that surprises me is Jack Nicklaus, the greatest player in the game, very strongly came out in Trump's corner in terms of voting for him. He made some strong political statements in his [Trump's] favour, and there's not a word about that. Tiger Woods has played with him, no noise around that. Ernie Els came out strongly in favour of Trump as well, and no noise about that.

"And he played golf with him (Trump) and the Japanese Prime Minister. I think it's really unfortunate that Rory has seemed to catch the flak for that."

Asked if McIlroy had been naive, he said: "No, it's not naivete because Jack Nicklaus coming out very strongly and going right through the front door and saying 'this is who I'm voting for' and this is the guy I want in the Presidency, that's not naive.

"I think Rory was caught unawares. A lot of us have been surprised by the reaction being so strongly negative against him. 

"I'd like to see this fire dying as quickly as possible because I want to see him getting back to getting focused, getting back from his injury, getting some tournaments under his belt and trying to join the only five people in the world that have ever achieved the [career] Grand Slam. 

"He's right on the threshold of that. He doesn't need this noise at this moment in time.

"Trying to get it to abate is very important for Rory because he's got big things on the horizon in a golfing sense. Let him get down to his golf and hopefully, people will move away from the noise and the talk around Donald Trump and him playing golf. 

 Paul McGinley leads Sky Sports’ coverage of the US Masters 2017.  Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Paul McGinley leads Sky Sports’ coverage of the US Masters 2017.  Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

"We're on the threshold of something magical here and for an Irishman to do it is a great opportunity. And he only gets one opportunity a year because the Masters is the one that he's missing."

McIlroy returns to action in the WGC-Mexico Championship today after a 44-day break to recover from a stress fracture of the ribs.

But it's not an issue that overly concerns McGinley, who also believes that four weeks is more than enough time for McIlroy to hit form and go to Augusta with a chance of making history.

"For Rory it is [enough time]," he said. "I think for other players, maybe not necessarily so but I think for Rory it is. 

With the wins all the young guys have had so far this year, and he hasn’t, he likes that question being asked and showing them who’s boss.
— McGinley believes McIlroy is fired up after his injury

"Rory’s game comes around very quickly. He relies a lot on confidence; he relies a lot on his game being in a decent place and being inspired."

With Dustin Johnson winning to become world No 1 and Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia all winning this year, McGinley believes McIlroy will be even more determined to step up and prove he's the game's No 1..

"He likes challenges and he likes it being put up to him. He’s often at his best when it’s put up to him. Certainly with the wins all the young guys have had so far this year, and he hasn’t, he likes that question being asked and showing them who’s boss.

"They are all positive things for Rory’s mindset, that they have all stepped up to the plate."

As for the injury, McGinley said: "Like I said when he did his ankle injury, he has one of the most qualified guys on his shoulder in Steve McGregor, anywhere in any sport in the world, on a daily basis.

"He came back from that injury when all the experts said, 'No, no, he’ll be out for six months; he’ll be out for five months; you won’t see him play this year', all that kind of stuff.

"He came back and he came back strongly from it. I think a lot of credit has to go to Steve McGregor, and it’ll be the same with this injury.

"He’ll get him back and he won’t miss a beat, and I think Steve McGregor deserves a lot of credit. He’s a very important member of Rory’s team, particularly with the fitness that goes on now with the young guys on tour. To have somebody like Steve in your corner when you do get injuries, and also to get trained in the right way, is invaluable to him."

Sky Sports’ live coverage of the 2017 Masters in Augusta gets underway on April 5th with expert insight and analysis from former Ryder Cup captain, Paul McGinley, and legendary golf coach, Butch Harmon. Sky Sports’ award-winning coverage will commence on Monday, April 3rd from the Augusta practice range before coverage of the Junior Drive, Chip and Putt Championship followed by the Masters Par 3 Contest on Wednesday, April 5th. 

Sky Sports’ four days of live tournament action will tee off on Thursday, April 6th from 7pm. Extra coverage of the featured groups as well as the 15th and 16th holes and Amen Corner will be available live from 1.15pm* to all Sky Sports subscribers who press the red button.