Rory McIlroy’s seemingly inevitable absence from next week’s Open Championship and possibly beyond should not deter the four-time major champion from kickabouts with his mates, believes Shane Lowry.
World number one McIlroy’s decision yesterday to post a picture of himself on crutches and wearing a protective ‘moon’ boot over his left ankle sent the golfing community into a flutter just days before the third major championship of the season is played out at St Andrews.
McIlroy was due to defend the Claret Jug he won at Hoylake 12 months ago but an impromptu game of football with his mates on Saturday has also thrown his PGA Championship defence next month into doubt.
Having posted the picture on his Instagram account the 26-year-old tweeted: “Total rupture of left ATFL (ankle ligament) and associated joint capsule damage in a soccer kickabout with friends on Saturday.
“Continuing to assess extent of injury and treatment plan day by day. Rehab already started..... Working hard to get back as soon as I can.”
Following a tie for ninth behind rival and world number two Jordan Spieth at last month’s US Open, McIlroy was due to resume play on Thursday at Gullane Golf Club in the Scottish Open before heading north to St Andrews and the Home of Golf for next week’s Open.
McIlroy withdrew from the Scottish Open yesterday morning and the “total rupture” of his anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL), as explained by the Sports Surgery Clinic’s Head of Performance Rehabilitation Enda King in the accompanying panel, suggests the Irishman is due for up to eight weeks on the sidelines.
That would mean he is unable to defend not just the Open but the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship titles he won in successive starts during a golden spell last July and August.
That would also deny golf fans McIlroy’s keenly-anticipated duel with Spieth in the final two majors of the year as the American closes in on an historic calendar Grand Slam which would likely see the 21-year-old Texan usurp his rival as the best player in the world before a return for the Holywood golfer in time for the FedEx Cup series on the PGA Tour at the end of August.
Nor did tweets from European Tour pro Richie Ramsay bode well for the Irishman, the Scot saying via his @RamsayGolf account: “I had a full tear of ligaments in my ankle not long ago. It takes a lot longer than you think to heal.” Followed by: “3 months til I played after tearing ligaments and even then getting my foot to work the right way was tough.”
Indeed, as fit as McIlroy has become over the past four years and as young as he still is, his powers of recovery may still not be quick enough to provide the stability required of his left ankle to cope with the torsion running through it that is generated by the right-hander’s athletic and powerful swing.
Lowry, who tied for ninth alongside McIlroy in last month’s US Open, appreciates the enormity of his friend’s injury having missed four months of play in early 2011 with a wrist injury suffered after a slip on ice.
Yet he also plays around the globe alongside coach Neil Manchip with a rugby ball because, well, boys will be boys and there is more to life than golf.
“I kick about, yeah,” Lowry said yesterday at Greystones Golf Club as he launched his own range of Kartel golf apparel in a new brand partnership with Irish department store group Heatons.
“At a tournament, me and Neil always bring a rugby ball. We might even bring an O’Neills. I wouldn’t play any matches with my friends, like a weekly five-a-side. No chance. We’d always kick about, like, but that would be it.” Now McIlroy has to deal with his expected absence from competition and focus on his recovery and rehab.
“I missed four months. It’s tough. It’s obviously not ideal for him, he’s not going to feel ideal after it but you just have to sit down and say right, let’s set a date for when he comes back and work towards that.
“It’s not ideal for him because he’s wearing that boot and he’s going to have everyone in the media on his back now.
“But should he be playing football? I don’t know. He likes playing football, and he likes playing football with his mates. What’s wrong with that? I mean, he’s only 25 or 26. It’s a case of, ‘let’s go out for a kickaround’; ‘yeah, no problem’.
“People think because you’re good at something you should just do that and focus on that, but that’s not what life is about. Obviously his career’s after suffering now because of it, but it’s not the end of the world.”
Still, the likelihood McIlroy, the tournament favourite, will be unable to defend his Open title next week is a big blow for the sport and Paul McGinley, his captain at last year’s Ryder Cup, voiced the disappointment of many on hearing the news.
“I’m sure he’ll be very disappointed. I’d like to find out a little bit more because sometimes these injuries can settle down very quickly. But it’ll be a blow not just for Rory but a blow for the game as a whole,” McGinley said.
“I know St Andrews is a golf course he really loves and a golf course that really suits his game. It’s a shame, a shame for the tournament and a shame for Rory if that’s the case.”
Q and A: Understanding ankle injury
Enda King, Head of Performance Rehabilitation at Sports Surgery Clinic
Q: What is a a total rupture of ankle ligaments?
A: There are 3 main ligaments on the lateral aspect (outside) of the ankle – ATFL, CFL, PTFL. ATFL is most commonly injured due to its position at the front of the ankle. A total rupture is whereby all the fibers of the ligament have been torn.
Q: How long is the recovery period?
A: For a multi-directional athlete the recovery is approx 6-8 weeks, this may be less for golf.
Q: What sort of rehab involved?
A: Initially minimise pain and swelling then restore movement and walking pattern. Progress then to restore strength and power to the ankle and rest of the lower limb. Finally progress to hopping jumping landing and sports specific movements such as turning, kicking or swinging a golf club.
Q: Are there long-term issues?
A: That depends on what concurrent damage occurred to the ankle but the injury is quite common with a very successful rehabilitation rate.
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