One of the things I like best about Rory McIlroy is his candor during press conferences. He is open, honest, and says what is on his mind. I love it. It is such a contrast to the robotic answers that we got for so many years from Tiger Woods. At the British Open Rory’s press conference was not only interesting, he lit the dang thing on fire.
The questioning was about his participation in the Olympics. Male golfers are dropping out at an alarming pace. Rory was not the first and he was not the last. In his initial statement he said he was dropping out because of the Zika virus. Almost everyone has cited the virus, or as Jordan Spieth calls it “health concerns” (we’ll get to him later). But during his press conference he seemed to backtrack. He basically said Zika was one of many reasons. I think he had to do this because the Zika virus is a really weak excuse. As a reporter I could have easily asked him why if he was so concerned about the virus did he go to the Bahamas on vacation a location where reported cases of the Zika virus have been found. Or stay at his house in Florida where mosquitos have been found with the virus. The virus was not a legitimate excuse and he probably knew it. Then he went down a path I would have recommended he not go down.
He started by saying he did not get into golf to grow the game. He got into it to win major championships. This by itself is not overly damaging. He has a right as an independent contractor and an individual to do whatever he wants. But it seems to overlook the fact that purses, sponsorships, and his own brand are going to be built on the popularity of the game of golf. If I am Nike, his main sponsor, I want him to promote growth of the game so that I can sell more golf shirts and clubs. Why the heck should I even invest in golf a declining industry if my biggest star doesn’t care if the game is in decline. It is a selfish stance. He certainly has the right to be selfish but part of his stardom and in a connected way, his wealth is going to be built on how popular the game is. Golf in the Olympics can only help that. Golf in the Olympics can only help him.
The health of golf is of particular importance right now. It is in decline, and if this decline continues purses in golf will likely stagnate or even go down, sponsors will leave the game, and the TV coverage will diminish as well. At a time when the game needs a boost he is saying I don’t care if it doesn’t grow, heck, I don’t care if it keeps shrinking. This is short sided and makes him look spoiled. Golfers now look like guys who have too much money and don’t care about the fans, if anyone plays the game they play, or even the health of the golf industry that pays them so much money.
If he’d stopped there, then he might have only shot himself in the foot. Someone asked him if he was going to watch the Olympics. He said he would, but probably not the golf. The follow up was which events would he watch. His answer? Roughly “track and field, swimming, you know, the events that matter.” Kaboom. In a single sentence he undid the work of people thousands of people who fought to put golf back into the Olympics. He said that golf doesn’t matter. He has the right to not watch. In fact he probably doesn’t want to watch because when the give a gold medal to someone he knows he could have beat he is going to feel like an idiot for not winning the medal himself. It was a sore loser comment and he should apologize.
The sad part of this event is that the fallout from this comment is that Rory will start being less open during press interviews. He won’t say what’s on his mind because he knows if he does say something stupid it is going to get replayed over and over. I truly hope that doesn’t happen. He has survived saying stupid things before. The whole drop out due to his tooth at PGA National. He got past that because he apologized for lying told everyone he just wasn’t in the right frame of mind, and we all got over it. He also made a comment a few years ago about how he didn’t like links golf, which he also apologized for. He should do the same here. Just put out a statement saying that he was frustrated that he was not able to participate and he said things that he wishes he hadn’t.
Jordan Spieth spoke right before Rory. His press conference was more upbeat. He said it was the hardest decision he’d ever made. His excuse for missing it was BS. Health concerns which included the Zika virus, but he was super clear to say not only Zika. Well, what are those health concerns exactly? If you know please let me know. He never elaborated. I think the press let him off gently, but the reality is nobody really blames him for dropping out. The same would have been true for Rory if he’d just said he schedule was too packed and he didn’t have the energy to play. Just been honest with us. We can handle it.
Instead Rory has lit a media firestorm just before he is about to tee off at the British Open. This fire won’t go out immediately. He will soon again face the media before the PGA Championship and make no mistake this will come up again. He needs to get out in front of it with an apology.
Photo credits: © Alastair Grant