IN an age when sport’s biggest stars tend to be a homogenised group seemingly focussed more on protecting the interests of sponsors than engaging in real world discussion, the world’s No. 2 ranked golfer, Rory McIlroy, is a breath of fresh air.
McIlroy is popular with golf fans and media alike in part because of the forthright manner in which he deals with the limelight and a lengthy, and revealing, interview with an Irish newspaper published this week is sure to bolster that opinion.
McIlroy sat down with Irish Independent writer Paul Kimmage for a long chat, part one of the two-part feature published this week and part two set to be printed next week.
But unlike many interviews of this genre, this one, to the credit of both writer and subject, is fascinating from beginning to end because of the honesty of both questions and answers.
McIlroy doesn’t shy away from any of the questions put to him and, despite the very real risk of finding himself at the centre of some controversy, gives blunt, forthright and, most importantly, thoughtful responses.
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In the more than 8,000 words of the Q&A-style piece, McIlroy clarifies his position on the Olympics (he won’t be going in 2020, either), his responsibility to grow the game (he hates the term) and his relationship with Tiger Woods (‘I’m drawn to him.’)
The 27-year-old says, while he is a supporter of golf in the Games, his Northern Irish heritage makes teeing up too complex.
By way of explanation, he recounted the text exchange he had with gold medal-winner Justin Rose after the event concluded.
“I sent Justin Rose a text after he won, I think I still have the message: 'I'm happy for you, mate. I saw how much it means to you. Congratulations.'
“He said: 'Thanks very much. All the boys here want to know do you feel like you missed out?’
“I said: 'Justin, if I had been on the podium (listening) to the Irish national anthem as that flag went up, or the British national anthem as that flag went up, I would have felt uncomfortable either way.'
“I don't know the words to either anthem; I don't feel a connection to either flag; I don't want it to be about flags; I've tried to stay away from that.”
At a press conference prior to the 2016 Open at Troon, McIlroy got himself in hot water for suggesting he didn’t feel it was his responsibility to grow the game.
He told Kimmage bluntly that he stood by those remarks despite some of the controversy that had followed.
“I hate that term 'growing the game',” McIlroy said.
“Do you ever hear that in other sports? In tennis? football? 'Let's grow the game'.
“I mean, golf was here long before we were, and it's going to be here long after we're gone. So I don't get that, but I probably went a bit overboard.”
McIlroy was also expansive about his relationship with fellow Nike star Tiger Woods and says he simply couldn’t live the life the 14-time major winner does.
“If someone was to say, ‘You can have 14 majors and 70 wins but have to deal with that, or nine majors and 40 wins and stay somewhat the same as you are’, I’d take the second option all day,” McIlroy reveals.
“I’ve seen it first-hand. I’ve seen what his life is like in Florida. I’ve played golf with him and said: ‘What are you doing tonight? Do you want to come and have dinner with us?’
“And he can’t. He just can’t. And for me, that’s unfathomable. I could not live like that.”
In a world where media has become dominated more by pieces of 140 characters than 1400 words, the Irish Independent, and Kimmage himself, are to be applauded for a fabulous piece of journalism.
It’s highly-recommended reading and if part two is as good as part one, it might already be in the running for best interview of the year. And it's only January.
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