Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 1 November 2020

Mastering the grace of golf still a process for club-chucking Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy is the anointed boy king of golf, writes Steve Elling, but his club toss at the Cadillac Championship shows the 25-year-old doesn't just yet have the imperturbable gravitas befitting the No 1.
Rory McIlroy missed the cut at last week's WGC-Cadillac Championship in Miami, Florida. David Cannon / Getty Images / AFP / March 7, 2015
Rory McIlroy missed the cut at last week's WGC-Cadillac Championship in Miami, Florida. David Cannon / Getty Images / AFP / March 7, 2015

All aesthetics considered, the trajectory was perfect, the distance was impressive and the landing created an even bigger ripple.

As it relates to Rory McIlroy’s second round last week outside Miami, feel free to interpret all of the above as literally as possible.

McIlroy’s 3-iron in the second round of the Cadillac Championship, easily the biggest event of the sport’s calendar year so far, created awe and bewilderment that stole the day and added to his reputation – for none of the right reasons.

After hitting a poor approach into the water with his handcrafted Nike iron, he paused for a moment, then helicoptered the offending iron several yards into the same lake, which runs down the left side of the ninth hole.

Like when McIlroy walked off the course at the Honda Classic two years ago, claiming to be suffering from a toothache when a missed cut was a certainty, it was yet another sign that while he has been anointed the boy king, maturation is a continuing process.

McIlroy, who has never been prone to fits of theatrical anger during his climb into the public consciousness, later tried to make a joke of the intentional drowning. Swoosh went splash and all the nightly highlight shows in the US and UK replayed it, over and over, hardly doing his image any favours.

McIlroy’s playing partner Henrik Stenson, who has torqued, twisted and tortured more than a few clubs over the years, tried to make light of McIlory’s moment of pique, though not everybody was laughing.

“He’s a strong fellow for not the tallest guy, and he had good speed on that one, too,” the Swede joked, critiquing McIlroy’s club-chucking form. “You know, it gets to the best of us, or to all of us,” he said, referring to frustrations of the game.

That is only partly true. Yet again, during an era in which McIlroy’s predecessor at world No 1 left a trail of airborne clubs and propeller wash in his slipstream, one of the last sports in which decorum still matters took another step backward.

For those old enough to remember, did Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson or Greg Norman ever sidearm a club into a lake? Phil Mickelson, a man who played for two decades under a media glare comparable to Woods, has never chucked a club.

McIlroy knew he had blown it, though the assembled scribes mostly made light of the Ulsterman’s moment of madness.

“It felt good at the time,” McIlroy said. “Look, I just let frustration get the better of me. It was heat of the moment, and if it had been any other club, I probably wouldn’t have, but I didn’t need a 3-iron for the rest of the round, so I thought, ‘Why not’?

He might have stopped at “why” and left it at that.

Woods’s club-heaving antics have desensitised a sport wherein eyebrow-hiking breaches in deportment were once considered anomalies. Woods slammed a driver into the turf in Australia a few years back, and it caromed into the gallery, where he was lucky that it did not hit anybody. A few months later, he spiked a driver into the ground outside Boston, and the club bounced sideways into a dry water hazard, where caddie Steve Williams had to retrieve it from the weeds. A stone-faced Woods walked onward as though nothing had happened.

McIlroy faces a fine from the PGA Tour, and it is likely that his club company, which pays him a fat US$20 million (Dh73.5m) annually to use its product, was none too happy with the way McIlroy hit the ejector button.

No question, the reason the incident drew so much attention is because it was an uncharacteristically childish move for McIlroy, an engaging player who is well-liked throughout the game, especially compared to Woods, who would have been editorially buried for a similar offence.

Then again, Woods is a titanium-tossing recidivist. If another McIlroy meltdown begats another splashdown, he will surely take some heat, since his grace period will have already expired.

After all, grace is something golf once had in ample supply.

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Updated: March 11, 2015 04:00 AM

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