US Open: Will America turn Rory McIlroy into some sort of saint?
If only Rory McIlroy could have ventured out at Congressional last night simply as the runaway winner of the US Open.
Alas, there were not only his own ambitions to haul around the 7,574 yards. The 22-year-old was also obliged to carry the hopes of the whole of golf, the whole of sport even.
No problem there, you may think. Nothing wrong with a heartwarming tale of a kid so crushed by capitulation at the Masters bouncing back to earn some immediate redemption.
What a talent, what a story. If only it could start and end there.
But it won't and it wouldn't because already young Rory has to be so much more than young Rory.
He is Tiger Woods as Woods should have been; as he was, indeed, until the myth came crashing down. Rory is the role model, the ideal idol, the saintly superstar. He is the answer.
Why? Because in the words of one euphoric US broadcaster, “He gets it.”
What is “it”? Well, it's the dreaded “p” word — perspective.
The boy took humiliation at the Masters like a man should and then visited Haiti to witness nature's devastation first hand.
Can you imagine Woods doing that?
That has been the unasked question thundering in the background as McIlroy has been all but deified. None of it has been orchestrated on McIlroy's behalf.
The “nobody's died” responses he gave as he walked off at Augusta weren't the product of some carefully choreographed PR operation and, apart from the need to publicise the charity, neither was his trip with Unicef. That's just McIlroy for you. He's natural, he's nice, a top bloke.
But so what? That's no reason to haul him up on to a pedestal which has nothing to do with his profession. Hasn't golf learned its lesson with Woods, just as sport should have done with Giggsy and so many more of its fallen icons?
Blessedly, McIlroy shows no signs of embarking on such a destructive lifestyle and those close to him are certain he will remain the curly-haired kid next door with absolutely no side and no agenda but to win golf tournaments. But all this hero worship is not helping. Let him be.
What are the chances of that? None whatsoever. This win will see his elevation to the forefront of golf and thenceforth his non-golfing qualities will be extolled from the clubhouse rooftops.
Granted, it is impossible to separate the off-course from the on-course, but what should be celebrated in Maryland is the rhythm with which he swings his driver, the panache he shows with a wedge. Yes, we should all toast his attitude, too; the smile he wears, the grace he shows in victory or defeat, the way he interacts with the galleries.
If you must, tell your children: “That's the way to behave on the golf course.” But leave it there. Don't hold him up as some sort of paragon, because he isn't one and he doesn't want to be one.
But worse still, don't confuse his virtues as a human with his virtues as a golfer.
By the end of his soliloquy the American broadcaster declared: “Rory is already a champion — as a human being.”
Maybe he is, maybe he isn't. Quite frankly, it's irrelevant. McIlroy is in town to be a champion golfer. That's what matters to him and he would be the first to acknowledge that his sport owes him nothing, regardless of how wonderful a human he may be.
It's like that old truism says: “Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is a little like expecting a bull not to attack you because you are a vegetarian.” McIlroy understands that. We can only pray his swelling legion of admirers do too.