Paul McGinley has outlined his concerns for Rory McIlroy’s Masters prospects next month if the Irish superstar is unable to quieten “the noise” created by his golf date with President Donald Trump.
World number three McIlroy, who returns to action today at the WGC-Mexico Championship following a rib injury that has kept him sidelined since January, is chasing a career grand slam of major championship victories having won the US Open, Open Champions and PGA Championship and needs only a victory at August National to complete the set and join an elite handful of golfing legends in achieving the feat.
Yet the widespread criticism which followed the 27-year-old’s decision to accept an invitation to play with the US president at his Trump International course in Florida last week has threatened to derail that bid for the record books.
On Monday, McIlroy admitted he had been “taken aback” by the negative reaction which followed news of his round with President Trump, while his 2014 Ryder Cup-winning captain McGinley admitted the three-time major winner had “walked into a storm” which was showing no signs of subsiding.
Speaking in Dublin yesterday as he launched Sky Sports’ coverage of the first major of the 2017 campaign, McGinley said McIlroy’s latest bid for grand slam glory, starting on April 5, would not be helped by this latest controversy.
“Of course that’s a worry,” McGinley said. “He got involved with the debate about the Olympics just before the British Open championship last year, the day before the tournament, and of course it affected his performance in the week.
“It can’t help, put it that way. Although he came fifth in the Open, he didn’t really contend, the two guys (Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson) ran away from the field.
“You look to Tiger, what he did in his career. He was there purely focused on winning golf tournaments. I’m not being critical of Rory. I think his position that he’s taken in the media, it’s great because he’s so insightful and he’s so honest.
“I think he opens up on a lot of questions and he likes to be a spokesperson for a lot of issues and he likes to give his views. It makes him a very interesting character that people are very interested in. But it has a downside in terms of it creates noise when there are controversial issues like this.
“Fuel keeps being added to the fire with the more questions it goes on. I want to see him focusing on his golf in the next month, four or five weeks, and then getting down to joining history.
McGinley added: “So trying to get it to abate is very important for Rory because he’s got big things on the horizon in a golfing sense. Let him get down to his golf and hopefully, people will move away from the noise and the talk around Donald Trump and him playing golf.
“We’re on the threshold of history here. An Irishman is going to join only five people in the history of the game who won the Grand Slam. We’re on the threshold of something magical here and for an Irishman to do it is a great opportunity. And he only gets one opportunity a year because the Masters is the one that he’s missing.”
McGinley also suggested there was a double standard at work in singling out McIlroy for criticism when many other high-profile golfers had been overt in their support for President Trump.
“The thing that surprises me is, you know, Jack Nicklaus, the greatest player in the game, very strongly came out in Trump’s corner in terms of voting for him, made some strong political statements in his (Trump’s) favour, and there’s no word about that. Tiger Woods has played with him, no noise around that.
“Ernie Els came out strongly in favour of Trump as well, and no noise about that. And he played golf with him (Trump) and the Japanese (Prime Minister). I think it’s really unfortunate that Rory has seemed to catch the flak for that.
“It’s not naivete because Jack Nicklaus coming out very strongly and going right through the front door and saying ‘this is who I’m voting for’ and this is the guy I want in the Presidency, that’s not naive.
“I think Rory was caught unawares. A lot of us have been surprised by the reaction being so strongly negative against him.
I’d like to see this fire dying as quickly as possible because I want to see him getting back to getting focused, getting back from his injury, getting some tournaments under his belt and trying to join the only five people in the world that have ever achieved the (career) Grand Slam. He’s right on the threshold of that. He doesn’t need this noise at this moment in time.”
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