When Rory McIlroy just succeeded – and no more – in making the cut in the recent BMW PGA championship, he was thinking of his father, Gerry. He was due to play with him in the Dunhill Links event in Scotland and he was worried lest the family confidence levels take a dip if he failed to go the distance at Wentworth.
“I don’t want to let my dad down,” he explained. In the event, he made him proud by clambering up the leaderboard to a respectable share of ninth place.
There have been any number of great relationships on tour in which father and son are friends as much as anything else, with the top three to spring to mind those involving Tiger and Earl Woods; Justin and Ken Rose, and Rory and Gerry McIlroy.
In each of the above, the fathers’ input was above and beyond the call of duty. Earl Woods, who passed away in 2006, was forever thinking of ways to make his son the best player he could be. He even introduced a ploy to prepared Tiger for real and imagined distractions – one of shaking coins in his pocket when Tiger was on the point of addressing a delicate putt.
Ken Rose, who died from cancer in 2002, would work alongside Justin when it came to unravelling the many questions born of his early promise. There was never a tougher question than when, in 1998, the then 17-year-old Justin finished in a share of fourth place in the Open and the decision had to be made as to whether he should make an immediate switch to the professional scene. Father and son agreed that the right place to learn to be a professional was the professional tour and, though Justin has ofter suspected they got that wrong when he went on to miss 21 straight cuts, there has always been a small voice inside to suggest that such a run of disappointments could have prepared him well for the ups and downs of the years ahead.
As for Gerry McIlroy, he and Rory have enjoyed a remarkable relationship in which there was a spot of role reversal in Rory’s earliest golfing days. Where, in so many relationships, it is the father who drags his offspring to the practice ground, Rory was the one calling the shots. Gerry will never forget that day when, at the end of a long day of juggling all the work he did to pay for his son’s burgeoning career, he was finally in a position to put his feet up in front of the fire. That was when Rory appeared round the door and asked to be taken to golf. “When I protested that I was too tired, he came up with the winning argument that I couldn’t be much interested in his becoming a good player.”
That Gerry didn’t let Rory down is why Rory would never let Gerry down today.
Rory was well known in Ireland and not-so-well-known outside when, still an 18-year-old amateur, he handed in a three under par 68 in the first round of the 2007 Open at Carnoustie which left him one behind his great hero, Tiger.
He had his first ‘major’ press conference that evening, with the media asking about the documentary which had already been made about him back home. As open and honest then as he is now, Rory explained that he had sort of “grown up” around media: “I think I’ve been getting interviewed since I was seven or eight and I’m pretty good at this talking thing.”
How right he was about that.
Only twelve years on from that first conference, Rory is the player the press seek out for opinions on all the issues of the day – most recently, slow play.
On his way to winning the recent Fed-Ex, he made the very valid point, “We’re not children that need to be told five or six times what to do….We need to make sure that the rules are sufficiently strict to ensure that no-one can keep breaking the rules and get away with it.”
He hates the fact that the problem starts with the professionals – and that children and college kids are getting the message that if the professionals go slow, it is all right for them to do the same.
In his eyes, a player should get one warning (being put on the clock could count as that) before being penalised a shot rather than a fine for his first bad time.
Rory even came down hard on the women playing in the recent Solheim Cup at Gleneagles. Great match though it was, he thought it made for frustrating watching. On this latest occasion, he urged golf to follow the example of tennis where Rafael Nadal was given a time clock violation on a really big serve at the end of the US Open final. “If they can do it, there’s no reason why we can’t. It’s just a matter of enforcing the rules and the rules officials being consistent.”
Rory did not mention this particular statistic, but would you believe that the last of the singles on the Solheim Cup Sunday afternoon took two hours and ten minutes for six holes.
In other words, about the same length of time as it would take for Rory and Gerry to play twice that number.