First there was tennis pro Caroline Wozniacki, then there was PGA staffer Erica Stoll. As Rory McIlroy announces his second engagement, Greg Bruce wonders whether the former world number one’s flair for romance is getting in the way of his golf.
Over the course of his relatively brief career, a lot of attention has been accorded 26 year old golfer Rory McIlroy. Much of it has focused on his beautiful swing; some of it has focused on his tight 80s perm and naughty face; effectively all of it has focused on the catastrophic end of his relationship with tennis’s Caroline Wozniacki; and the remainder has focused on the question, now answered I think, of whether he will be the next Tiger.
“Who’s the next Tiger?” The golfing media and I have asked weekly, sometimes daily, as if we have nothing else to say about this glorious game, as if Lydia Ko isn’t happening right now in a less well-lit corner of the dance floor. “Is this guy the next Tiger? No? Then what about this guy?”
When will this narrative end? Can the golf media not find another discussion point?
Because the answers to that pair of questions are never and no, and because young tight-permed genius Rory McIlroy has, for most of the last few years, been the world’s best golfer, he has by default become our leading discussion point.
If the rise of sudoku has taught us anything, it’s that our brains have evolved to find few things as absorbing as the gap between question and answer.
With sports prodigies, the gap can be opened and closed multiple times across a career. Take the case of Tiger: first we wondered if he would be as good as he looked, then we wondered whether he would become the youngest major winner, then whether he would become the greatest player of all time, then, finally, whether he would break back into the world’s top 400.
With Rory, the questions of potential began seriously in 2012 and, with the occasional exception, have become less lofty fairly steadily since. Rory has love problems. His apparent raging need to get married, despite the fact he is basically still a child, is either symptomatic of, or responsible for, his failure to become more than what he is. It is charming but it is also a bit annoying.
In 2014, at barely 25, just after he and Caroline Wozniacki sent out their wedding invitations, he called her to say they were breaking up. Then, last year, he started appearing more and more with new girlfriend Erica Stoll, and almost before you could tell the Daily Mail, he was engaged to her. In the regular pap and publicity snaps, they were frequently pictured holding hands as if they were either 12 years old or acting a lot like it.
The issue with all this is that you can’t simultaneously care that much about both romantic relationships and golf. If you are a professional, the game takes possession of you and demands that you devote yourself to it fully. This should not be a problem, for when you have felt with your hand the sweet, soft nap of the 18th green at Augusta, it would be dishonest to claim you could ever again feel so enthusiastic about touching a human butt. Golf knows that.
Has Rory sacrificed at least some of his love of golf – for which his facility is so superlative that he was rightly touted, not so long before the implosion of Caroline Wozniacki’s wedding, as potentially the greatest of all time – in order to do something as prosaic as getting married? Does he not understand that while golf is spiritual, marriage is mostly washing and ironing shirts?
In golfing terms Rory Mcilroy had a pretty good year last year but he didn’t win a major and it’s fair to ask the question: Will he ever be the player he should have been?
We enjoyed the run of Tiger through the late 90s and early 2000s in part because of the excitement of his quest for incomparable greatness. But that is not the only lens through which to view world class golf and, in retrospect, it’s one of the more stupid ones. We formed an unhealthy relationship with Tiger and he let us down.
There is no longer that threat from Rory, so we can relax and enjoy him for what he is. Where Tiger’s swing was nut-hard and angry, Rory’s is basically performance art: a movement of his body so graceful that it would be equally spectacular absent the golf course. It is hard proof that God exists. He is kind and considerate to his fellow players and is well-liked by them. He has a flaw when it comes to love, but what young person can truly say their way has never been sullied by hormones? He says that Erica Stoll makes him feel serene. Is serenity something Tiger ever sought? Just thinking about the word probably makes him want to puke.
How good will Rory become? How many majors will he win over the course of his career? These questions are yet to be answered. Will he be the next Tiger? No, thank God.