There still is time for Rory McIlroy, a good soul having a rough year. There is time for him to turn it around and right the ship for himself and, let’s face it, for his sport.
The sea has been choppy for golf in 2016, a year in which McIlroy missed the cut in two majors. Probably not a coincidence. “Look, it hasn’t been the year that I wanted,” he said Wednesday, on the eve of The Barclays at Bethpage Black, the start of the FedExCup playoffs and the homestretch of the golf calendar.
“But I still feel like there is enough golf left this year to salvage it and call it somewhat of a successful season,” said the 27-year-old from Northern Ireland who had what he called an emotional win at the Irish Open, but no other victories. He never made it to the third round of the U.S. Open or PGA Championship and made his biggest waves by saying he wouldn’t play or watch golf in the Olympics.
McIlroy fibbed about the last part. He did tune in to the ending from Rio and was impressed. “It was nice to be proven wrong somewhat,” he said, mindful of the verbal pounding he took for having said at the British Open that he would watch only the Olympic sports that “mattered.”
Personally, I think he had every right to think that way. Kudos to him for being honest enough to say it. And it says something about him, that he is big enough to make an impact by being absent.
True, there have been good moments in men’s golf this year, notably the way the four first-time major champions were great when they absolutely had to be. But for every upside there has been a downside. Even the fact Olympic golf was such an appealing show was more of a commentary on the Olympics than on golf.
If anyone tries to insist that 2016 has been an unalloyed joy ride, you have permission to tell them they are all wet. Wetness being a big theme.
There were the two shots Jordan Spieth hit in the drink at Augusta, showing he is not yet the newest transcendent golf star. Then there the three simple 102-yard wedge shots by the most recent transcendent golf star, Tiger Woods. They all fell into a pond at a charity event, proving that he is not ready to return from back surgery.
Don’t get us started on the hot water the U.S. Golf Association got itself in with the penalty it called on Dustin Johnson down the stretch at the U.S. Open. Finish it up with the deluge at the PGA that robbed Baltusrol of its edge and turned Sunday into a mad scramble to beat dusk.
Much of that was no one’s fault, but it still left a soggy feeling. Luckily for everyone concerned, there is only one water hazard on the Black. And there is still time for redemption, what with the PGA Tour’s $10 million FedExCup and the Ryder Cup. McIlroy wants to be at the head of the line, with a new putter and the prospect of a fresh equipment start now that Nike is getting out of golf (other companies are sending samples to his parents’ home and his dad, McIlroy said, “is having a field day”).
Plus, the Black is the sort of place that makes you think that anything can happen because anyone can play there. “It’s awesome, it’s great. We were talking about it yesterday. I was playing the back nine with Justin Thomas, and we were saying, ‘It’s a public golf course. It’s unbelievable,’ ” said McIlroy, whose success was built on sacrifice by working-class parents. “I think golf needs more of that. It needs more inclusion.”
For this season, golf needs a Mulligan. It also could use a gifted, candid, somewhat humbled star to get his mojo back while there’s still time.