There’s obviously been a multitude of words written about Rory McIlroy’s U.S. Open victory. So I’m probably not going to break any new ground here.
But the biggest reason why I’m pleased about Rory’s victory isn’t because of his wonderful play, for the four rounds in the 60s or for the near hole-in-one on No. 10 in the final round.
I’m happy because of how Rory has handled himself in the past and how he handled himself over the weekend. He smiles, he laughs, he has dialogue with the fans. And he generally doesn’t act like a jerk.
If you rewind to early April, you can go back to the final round of the Masters. It was there, of course, that McIlroy led after each of the first three rounds. McIlroy had a somewhat shaky front nine, but he still walked off the ninth green with the lead.
And that’s when he hooked it off of the planet on No. 10. He hit it left-to-left. Ridiculously far left. And then the wheels came off. He didn’t break 80 that day and looked like he just might fit in well with me and my buddies on a weekend morning. He was 21 years old at the time, he played a brutal nine holes on perhaps the biggest stage in golf and he carried himself with a tremendous amount of maturity.
As a former sports reporter, I probably look more critically to how athletes/public figures/golfers treat journalists than most people. Especially when the TV cameras aren’t on. The reality of the deal is that dealing with the media is part of the gig for pro athletes. It’s a very direct link to the fans who, in many ways, provide the purse money that these guys play for and buy the gear that allows for endorsement contracts.
But that day in Augusta, Rory McIlroy could not have handled things better. He was humbled. He answered every question asked of him. He acted like a gentleman.
Going back even further, I worked with the media staff at the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine. I worked in the area outside of scoring and helped coordinate post-round interviews between golfers and members of the media. For the most part, I worked with the foreign media like SkySports, the BBC, etc.
That week, there were many guys who were great to deal with. You didn’t have to beg them to do interviews. They said absolutely. Some of them immediately went and talked to reporters without have to be asked. Perhaps the three easiest guys to deal with that week were Padraig Harrington, Rory and Ian Poulter. All of them were great. It was like the realized that talking to the press was part of their responsibility. In addition, the Asian golfers were great to deal with as well. They simply signed their cards, walked out of the trailer and walked up to the media.
There were other guys who weren’t nearly so great. Vijay was kind of difficult. Tiger was a nightmare. I’m admittedly not a huge Tiger guy. The guy is an amazing talent. He can do all kinds of amazing things with the golf ball, but he makes it so difficult.
Too often, he acts like a moody jerk. He is short, he’s arrogant, he says nothing. There are too many times when he acts like a jerk because he has the ability to. And that doesn’t even get to the way he acts on the golf course. He is little more than a robot who doesn’t acknowledge the throngs of people who cheer for him. And, let’s be honest, the way Steve Williams doesn’t exactly help Tiger’s image.
On the Saturday of the ’09 PGA, he could not have been a bigger jerk in a live interview with Sky Sports — the network that was broadcasting the tournament in Europe. I was never really a fan of how Tiger acted, but that pushed me over the edge. When he crashed his car only a few months later and the wheels fell off of his life, I didn’t exactly feel bad for him.
Now I’m not going to be one of those people who is comparing Rory with Tiger and saying that McIlroy is going to be the guy who breaks Jack’s record of 18 professional major titles.
I’m just going to say that I’m pleased that something good happened to someone who has handled himself with so much class. I don’t know if Rory is a great person or a role model or whatever. All I know is that he has done things the right way, realizes that he has gotten crazy wealthy from playing a game, realizes how lucky he is and it looks like he’s having fun with the deal.
And I like that something good has happened to a guy who has acted so professionally.