ST. ANDREWS, Scotland—Injuries are a part of any sport but when such situations take place that are self-created during the height of the season one has to wonder if the person’s head is really clicking on all cylinders.
Rory McIlroy, the world’s No. 1-ranked player, suffered a ruptured ligament in his left ankle while playing soccer with friends on July 4 and then announced a few days later he would not be defending his title at The Open. There is no set time table when McIlroy will return to competition.
Clearly, 26-year-olds do want to enjoy the company of their friends but a bit of smartness would have alerted the Northern Irishman to have shown much needed focused with the heart of the golf calendar ready to go full tilt for the next few months.
Players of the caliber of McIlroy are judged by what they do in the game’s four major events. No question McIlroy could have just as easily slipped while walking on a wet sidewalk and the same result could have happened. But minus freakish events that can happen, the idea of playing soccer with a mega golf calendar of tournaments on the immediate horizon has to make one question if Rory is thinking smartly.
The golf world was anxious to see Rory handle the incredible season American Jordan Spieth is having. Spieth is looking to win his third consecutive major at St. Andrews this week and after winning this past week’s John Deere event on the PGA Tour he seems primed to exert a strong effort in looking to secure the famed Claret Jug as this year’s Champion Golfer of the Year.
The 2015 golf campaign has been good at times for Rory: two wins on the PGA Tour, including a 4th place finish at The Masters—his best finish there in his young career—and a top 10 placement at last month’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. With Spieth’s emergence, the two top players in the world were set to battle at The Old Course and show which of the two is clearly the more dominating golfer. That confrontation will need to be postponed for a bit.
The key question for McIlroy is whether he has learned anything from this matter. Focus is an issue McIlroy has had to deal with from time to time. Clearly, when his “A” game is at-hand, the wherewithal to score extremely well and win in convincing manner can certainly be demonstrated. But, when Rory has had slow starts in key events, the desire to grind on as done by former No. 1 Tiger Woods is a matter of serious debate.
When Rory claimed the top spot in the world rankings it was unclear who could possibly challenge him at the top of the heap. Spieth has sent a clear wake-up call to McIlroy that life at the top is not going to be an easy resting spot. Sitting on the couch this week should be a clear enough statement to Rory. With the time away McIlroy will need to show when he returns that his focus is not going to be sidetracked. Instead of kicking a soccer ball Rory needs to give himself a swift kick in the butt and realize what a golden opportunity he squandered by not being able to compete this week.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.