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Comment: Rory McIlroy has every right to miss the Irish Open he selflessly served for so long

 

Taking a break: Rory McIlroy will not play at the Irish Open this summer
Taking a break: Rory McIlroy will not play at the Irish Open this summer
David Kelly

By David Kelly

About a year ago, Rory McIlroy met with the chief executive of the European Tour, Keith Pelley.

The Ulsterman brought to the table a suggestion that would naturally prove beneficial to him, otherwise he wouldn't have been sitting at the table in the first place, but it would also have benefited some of his fellow pros.

With the 2019 schedule not yet finalised, McIlroy's idea was to switch the dates of the Scottish and Irish Opens so that those bound for the historic Open Championship in Portrush could stay on the one island.

It seemed to make a sackful of sense and, privately, fellow pros grasped the logic too.

McIlroy's request might have seemed selfish to some; particularly as even back then he was being consumed by his continued absence from Europe's Major-winning elite - the drought would not end in 2018.

And, having handed over the onerous hosting duties for the Irish Open to Paul McGinley, not only did the request seem selfish to some but it also seemed startlingly supercilious.

"Everyone has their own individual agenda, so we'll see," said McIlroy at the time.

In any event, McIlroy's idea was politely repelled by Pelley, who referred to difficulties with pre-signed contracts.

A few weeks later, Pelley signed another contract on behalf of the Tour, with the Saudi Arabia General Sports Authority, to host an event which would become a lightning rod for controversy.

Everyone has their own agenda.

Rewind a few years to a time when the Irish Open was being threatened with extinction, unable to provide the lucrative rewards of an abhorrent, barbaric regime.

Who stepped into the breach to save the event from expiration, perhaps for all time? McIlroy, whose global influence and persuasive appeal ensured that not only did the event survive, it thrived, achieving its status as a stellar event on the newly-established flagship Rolex Series.

By inextricably linking himself with the rescued event, McIlroy not only revived the tournament, but also generated millions of pounds for charitable causes, particularly those directed towards young cancer-stricken children, north and south, who required respite care.

Much of this was conveniently forgotten as the four-time Major winner began to muse upon a course of action, finally confirmed this week, that he would decide to opt out of the event for this season in order to revive his own vaulting, yet recently stalled, career ambitions.

Imagine that, an individual sportsman deciding to pursue a path that suits himself.

The wrath of golf, and the familiar cacophony beyond, had already begun to unfurl its outrage.

The irony of the main charge, that McIlroy was somehow imperilling the status of the Irish Open, when he alone had done more than anyone else to ensure that it had a status to be endangered in the first place, represents a high watermark of hypocritical hyperbole.

McIlroy's only responsibility is to himself, to ensure that he can be the best golfer that he can be which, on the evidence of a four-year winless stretch in the Majors, is currently beyond his grasp.

And so, as he has done before, whether in his personal life, or with management, or with his caddy, or in a decision to skip the Olympics, he will do what is best for him.

"Everyone has to look out for themselves," he said in December. "And next year, I'm looking out for me."

It is too easy for those on a bar stool to decry his motives, or indeed for those peers, Paul McGinley among them, to criticise his intentions when none of these people know what it takes to win a Major, or indeed what it feels like when with each passing event it becomes more difficult to win another.

The fey despair in some quarters that a Ryder Cup captaincy 20 years hence was also hysterically diverting, as if this biennial jamboree is somehow the primary arbiter of a successful career in the sport.

The apparent snub to McGinley has been dressed up as some sense of personal slight - conveniently forgetting the Ulsterman's pivotal candidacy for the Dubliner's Ryder Cup captaincy - but this is a decision based on prudence, not personality.

McIlroy's loyalty lies not with a team or a country or a European Tour whose commitment is to make money - even in Saudi Arabia; his allegiance is to himself or, at the most, as he has averred, to a new family who are now based in the US, not in Europe.

Any of the top players who will pitch up in Lahinch this summer will not do so because of the hospitality or the supreme Guinness; they will be there because not only will it suit them but they will be handsomely rewarded for doing so.

Of course, McIlroy's gambit of easing his Major build-up might not prevent his drought extending into another year.

If he does win his fifth Major, it might be impossible to ascertain whether his schedule change will prove decisive.

Getting the ball in the hole in fewer strokes remains the key to this simple, but wickedly deceitful, sport. But whatever the golfing gods decree in 2019, demanding penitence for temporarily focusing on himself, at the expense of a tournament which he has served so selflessly, is out of bounds.

Since 2015, the same year he revived the Irish Open, he has failed to re-ignite his Grand Slam assault. Something had to take priority. And in the sport of golf, it is always the individual.

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