19th hole: Rory McIlroy’s decision to forego Irish Open is met with inexplicable outrage

Feb 24, 2019; Mexico City, MEX; Rory McIlroy carries his bag on the second green during the final round of the WGC - Mexico Championship golf tournament at Club de Golf Chapultepec. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports Orlando Ramirez/USA TODAY Sports

19th hole: Rory McIlroy’s decision to forego Irish Open is met with inexplicable outrage

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19th hole: Rory McIlroy’s decision to forego Irish Open is met with inexplicable outrage

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Nothing burns with so much intensity on so little fuel like social media outrage, the collective finger-wagging and tut-tutting that sucks most of the oxygen from the Twitterverse. The version most commonly practiced in my native Ireland — and found as much in old media as in new — is a beguiling mix of parochialism and begrudgery. You may have noticed it in recent days.

The kindling for the outrage was predictably inconsequential: Rory McIlroy’s announcement that he won’t compete in this year’s Irish Open, which begins July 4 at Lahinch Golf Club. It wasn’t news to those who pay attention, but was treated as such by those seeking attention.

Back in November, McIlroy said he’d try to compete the week before major championships this season (three of his four major wins came when he had played the week prior). With the Open Championship being staged in McIlroy’s home of Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951, he plans to prepare at the Scottish Open a week beforehand. The Irish Open falls a week before the Scottish.

“If I want to give myself the best chance to win the Open Championship, I want to play the week before on a links course to get tuned up then go straight into the Open,” he told the BBC. “That third week is just a little too much for me.”

In this season of rejiggered schedules, McIlroy is just another high-profile player for whom something had to give. And he has earned the right to back-burner his national championship.

McIlroy spent four years as the tournament’s host. What he inherited in 2015 was a struggling, lower-tier European Tour stop with a paltry purse and a roster of mediocre venues. By the time he handed off host duties to former Ryder Cup hero Paul McGinley after last year’s event, the Irish Open was among Europe’s most lucrative tournaments, boasting a tripled prize fund, an elite field and a robust slate of venues. To say nothing of his impact on charitable funds raised.

If you think a pass might be granted to the man who resuscitated the event — and who wants nothing more than to win golf’s oldest major on the same home turf — then you’re probably not on social media.

There were, of course, many who praised his service and wished him well at Royal Portrush in the 148th Open. But the back-alleys of Twitter were smeared with graffiti denouncing McIlroy as “mercenary” and “a lowlife,” daubed by those who used to have to go outside and shriek at passers-by on street corners to be heard. What the commentary lacked in insight it compensated for in ignorance. And it wasn’t limited to the dingy corners of social media. A columnist in the Irish Independent, the nation’s biggest-selling newspaper, Riverdanced across his keyboard in a feverish effort to stomp on McIlroy.

“If McIlroy’s confirmation that he will bypass this year’s Irish Open must feel like a lacerating knife in the back for tournament host McGinley, it speaks to the wider public as just the latest mystifying and infuriating lunge from a superstar increasingly astray, a wildly wobbling champion. It is as if the yips that can so torment a golfer’s sanity on the putting green have besieged his everyday decision-making; as if his sense of duty has been snap-hooked out of bounds,” he typed balefully.

McIlroy’s decision, our despondent correspondent continued, was “the equivalent of emptying the contents of a septic tank onto Lahinch’s world famous Dell and Klondyke putting surfaces. It bathes the build-up to that week in July in a toxic sludge … It is an insult to the national intelligence.”

Even by the impressive standards of Irish media, it was the kind of unlettered guff that renders a newspaper barely fit even for the wrapping of fish and chips.

McIlroy may be alone among prominent Irish pros in skipping Lahinch, but at this moment he’s also alone among Irish pros in having a realistic prospect of success at the Open. Most will watch from their couch. The Irish Open is their major, but it’s not his.

Few should understand McIlroy’s decision better than his successor as host, McGinley. Both as an analyst for Sky Sports and in conversation with me last summer, he has said McIlroy needs to reset his focus on winning major titles. McGinley calls it the “pointy elbows” attitude, an imperious certainty that he will nudge his peers aside on trophy day. Forgoing the Irish Open to prepare for the bigger prize is just the “pointy elbows” move we’ve been waiting for.

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