SIMON LEWIS: Rory’s troubles put in perspective

IF you want a golfing story about pain and sacrifice, take your head out of Rory McIlroy’s dental records and instead look deep into the heart of Erik Compton.

Rather, make that the three hearts of Erik Compton.

While the world No 1 was citing the wisdom tooth discomfort as an excuse for his walk-off at the Honda Classic last Friday, two-time heart transplant recipient Compton was showing the true meaning of resilience on the way to a tie for fourth in the same event, a career-high finish on the PGA Tour.

Now 33, the Miami-born Norwegian-American replaced his first heart at the age of 12 and swapped out ticker two for number three in May 2008, having at one point called his family to say his farewells mid-cardiac arrest as he drove himself to a hospital.

Remarkably, having been told he would never pick up a golf club again, according to his instructor Jim McLean in an interview with the Treasure Coast Palm Beach newspaper, Compton returned to the PGA Tour just six months later and has gradually worked himself back to a full schedule, his latest reward a Honda Classic pay cheque for $226,200 (€175,000).

“Every week he plays golf is a win for Erik,” McLean said, and if that doesn’t put McIlroy’s walk-off into perspective nothing will.

Compton was not in any pain during the Honda Classic, though he does need regular medication to help his body accept his latest heart, whereas if Rory’s wisdom tooth was, as he claims, causing him grief than it may well have been unbelievably uncomfortable for the Holywood golfer.

Regardless, this is another piece of unwelcome attention for the boy who has it all and he could do with the extra 24 hours he has been given in Miami by the rescheduling of this week’s pre-WGC Cadillac Championship press conference from today to tomorrow in order to get his story straight.

As McIlroy’s female counterpart Yani Tseng said in Singapore at the weekend — where, as an aside, Stacy Lewis won the HSBC Women’s Champions with a rod and five screws in her back as a result of battling scoliosis — being No 1 is “tough and it’s very lonely”. Yet he should understand by now that being the game’s top dog comes with responsibility and the minute anything untoward happens concerning the 23-year-old, the golfing world and beyond is going to have an opinion on it.

There was already plenty to talk about regarding McIlroy’s current travails with his swing and his struggle to adapt to the new Nike clubs he accepted a king’s ransom to use back in January.

Last Friday’s mid-round withdrawal made the front pages as well as the sports sections on Saturday morning, complete with the picture of McIlroy chomping on a sandwich immediately before his decision to quit during the second round.

That didn’t help his story and there has been plenty of chatter since to suggest not many people are buying the excuse about dental problems.

Tomorrow’s meeting with the media at Doral will make for an interesting session in front of the cameras but when the great Jack Nicklaus chips in his disapproval of McIlroy’s walk-off, as he did on US national television on Sunday night, you know you’ve got some explaining to do.

Still, Nicklaus knows talent when he sees it and like the rest of us he has seen the glory of McIlroy in his pomp and the way he has shown some resilience of his own in the face of adversity, not once but twice in the past two years, overcoming his final-round Masters meltdown to win the US Open two months later in 2011 and then emerging from a mid-season slump last summer to romp home at Kiawah Island and land his second Major at the US PGA.

Maybe this latest incident will be the spur to kickstart McIlroy’s assault on the Masters five weeks from now.

Because if he has shown us anything these past couple of years it is that a little local difficulty can quickly parlay into Major success in a short space of time.

O’Grady takes the initiative on bellyaches

At last, someone in authority has come to their senses and stopped acting the clown over the R&A and USGA’s proposed anchoring ban, the 90-day consultation period for which ended on February 28.

PGA Tour commissioner Tom Finchem launched his power play last week by voicing opposition to the proposal, citing a lack of evidence to suggest the use of belly putters and other anchoring methods improves play and expressing his body’s “right to differ”.

The European Tour yesterday, however, announced it supported the incoming ban and that its members should comply.

European Tour chief executive George O’Grady even made a pointed reference about the set-up of courses in America, suggesting more golfers used the offending clubs over there because the speed of the greens Stateside were so slick.

Good on you, George. We can expect the debate to rage on before the USGA and R&A delivers its final verdict on the proposal some time in the spring but thank goodness the PGA Tour have been isolated a little further on this issue because if the US Tour goes it alone, chaos will ensue. As European Tour senior referee Andy McFee said recently, tours are rules following organisation and if they sway from the rules, then they are not playing golf anymore, merely a variant of the game.

Gormley and Galgorm can take a bow

CONGRATULATIONS to general manager Gary Gormley and everyone at Galgorm Castle Golf Club for securing the return of a European Challenge Tour event to these shores.

Galgorm, near Ballymena, will host the Northern Ireland Open Challenge from August 29-September 1 and the field has been boosted by the participation of four-time European Tour winner Michael Hoey, the former Amateur champion who cut his teeth with three wins on the Challenge Tour.

It is a decade since the north last staged such an event and follows on from the phenomenal success of last summer’s Irish Open at Royal Portrush. The huge crowds that turned out to see McIlroy, McDowell, Harrington, Clarke and Keegan Bradley play the Dunluce links clearly impressed upon the bigwigs at the European Tour that there is an appetite for watching professional golf here. Not so long ago, chief executive George O’Grady was speaking of too many events on this island saturating the market and when you consider that England presently stages just one European Tour event each year, the BMW PGA Championship in the Tour’s backyard at Wentworth then perhaps we are fortunate to have been granted even a Challenge Tour event.

It is now up to the Irish golfing public to get behind Galgorm because if that Challenge proves successful then maybe we will also see the Challenge Tour grace this island even further south once more.

It’s time to get my clubs in order

In the interests of transparency it should be noted that this columnist is a terrible golfer. So bad, in fact, that having not picked up a club in anger in more than two years, it is high time I got back out there and started playing the game I love and spend so much time talking about.

There is even talk about going right back to basics and starting again at the very beginning. Lessons are being mooted. Watch this space for further details and if nothing else, my travails on the range may bring a little sunlight into the lives of even the most ordinary of hackers.


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