No excuse: McIlroy apologizes for WD at Honda
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
DORAL, Fla. – Apologies and regrets offered, Rory McIlroy would like to leave his role as a soap opera actor and return to his position as the world’s top-ranked golfer.
How seamless a transition that will be remains to seen, but sore wisdom teeth and all, the task will begin immediately for the suddenly-beleaguered 23-year-old, who up until this year had lived a charmed and controversy-free golf life.
“I have to remember to go out and enjoy myself. I am in a very privileged position,” McIlroy said to a packed room of media inside the sprawling clubhouse at Trump Doral where he’s scheduled to play in the WGC-Cadillac Championship starting Thursday.
McIlroy broadened his audience to concede he made a mistake by walking off the golf course halfway through the second round of the Honda Classic last Friday. He was struggling badly and the Northern Irishman initially conceded his departure was owed to being in a bad place “mentally.”
But McIlroy issued a statement through his management company two hours later and said sore wisdom teeth were to blame. That touched off skepticism and criticism, and McIlroy seemed to compound his precarious situation with a “confession,” if you will, given late Sunday night to just one reporter, Michael Bamberger of Sports Illustrated.
This morning, McIlroy backed up his apologies to dozens of members of the media. Jokingly, he began his press conference by offering a soccer reference – “I gave myself a red card for last week,” he said – but then he fell back into the honest and straight-forward kid he’s always been.
“I’ve had a little time to think about it and I realized quickly that wasn’t the thing to do. It was a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes, but I’m learning from them. (Unfortunately), most of my mistakes happen in the public eye.”
He did not deny he regretted the way he left the course (“There’s no excuse for quitting”), but insisted the sore wisdom teeth are an issue and have been for nearly a year. He said he will address the problem in June, after the U.S. Open, when he returns to Northern Ireland to see his dentist, Mark Conroy, “the only guy I trust (for dental issues).”
Widely considered by media in both Europe and the U.S. as cooperative and outgoing, McIlroy’s infectious personality and boyish charm – in tandem with an immense skill that has already won him two major championships – have made him a worldwide sports celebrity. Like many in today’s entertainment world, he has embraced Twitter and his romance with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, 22, has almost been a daily show thanks to social media.
No surprise, then, that rumors abound that McIlroy’s pain has nothing to do with teeth, but everything to do with the heart.
He shot those rumors down.
“No, no, no,” he said when asked if something off the course was at the root of his problems. “Just because I have a bad day on the golf course and Caroline loses a match (as she did recently in Malaysia to the 186th-ranked player in the world) doesn’t mean we’re breaking up.”
He insisted he would see Wozniacki next week and McIlroy quickly shifted focus back to the real problem. He’s 65 days into the year, but has played just four-and-a-half rounds of competitive golf, none of them well, all of them under a cloud of scrutiny given his decision to leave his longtime equipment company, Acushnet, and sign a massive contract with Nike. Rumored to be upward of $20 million a year for 10 years, the deal hangs heavy over McIlroy, who has consistently said his poor play thus far in 2013 has nothing to do with the new equipment.
He did so again and in explaining what is wrong, McIlroy said it was simple to understand, not easy to fix. He blamed a poor takeaway, saying he’s too far on the outside, and that puts bad things in motion.
“The takeaway has always been the biggest key to my golf game,” he said.
The process he’s currently undertaking? It’s not really a swing change, “it’s a change back to where (the swing) was.”
McIlroy brushed aside theories that he’s put put pressure on himself to prove his mega deal with Nike was a smart move and to silence the critics. “(Golf) has been my life for my life,” he said. “It’s pressure I put on myself.”
In light of how he has played thus far – he shot 75-75 and missed the cut in Abu Dhabi; lost in the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship; and was 7 over in his brief stay at Honda – the equipment questions keep coming and seem to be annoying him.
“The clubs I play is irrelevant,” he said. “When I hit a good shot, it’s all me.”
In just his sixth year as a professional, McIlroy in 2012 ascended to the top spot in the world rankings and was there for a total of eight weeks on three different occasions between March and May. But when he won the PGA Championship by eight in mid-August, McIlroy moved back into the top spot, then backed it up in impressive fashion – victories at two PGA Tour playoff events, the Deutsche Bank and BMW, then at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. He earned money titles on both sides of the pond and he comes into this week’s World Golf Championship riding a 28-week streak atop the world rankings.
The thing is, his hold on that top spot has slipped. Whereas he had a lead of 4.597 points over Luke Donald at the end of 2013, he presently is just 2.70 ahead of Tiger Woods.
Backing up the No. 1 position is not the issue, because he said he’s already accustomed to that penthouse view. It’s backing up last year – five wins, another major, money titles in the U.S. and Europe – that is his challenge and McIlroy seemed to concede that so far he’s failed miserably.
Thus, he vowed a change for this week. He has heard from friends (Graeme McDowell and Ernie Els), he has confided in his managers at Horizon Sports, and he has thought long and hard about it all in between long practice sessions with the only swing coach he has ever had, Michael Bannon.
“I realize what they said is right – go out and enjoy yourself. I’m not putting any pressure on myself this week.”
He doesn’t have to worry about the spotlight, however. That’s already in place.