McIlroy struggling with new direction

No particular China angle in this week’s Sports Talk column about Rory McIlroy, but I’m currently working on a piece about Chinese golf – and teen sensation Guan Tianlang in particular – which I will post once it’s in print. Here’s the piece:

When Rory McIlroy signed a multi-million-dollar endorsement deal with Nike earlier this year, most of the headlines focused on the bottom line. Those in the game, though, were quick to point out the risks.

Still number 1, but for how long?

It’s one thing to bank an obscene amount of money if all you have to do is stick a logo on your shirt and wear a different cap, but McIlroy’s Nike deal also meant switching equipment. His dad once said he could win a major playing with a hockey stick and an orange, but for professionals, a change of clubs can be unsettling.

To illustrate the point, in his final 10 tournaments playing with his old Titleist clubs, the 23-year-old won four times, and finished outside the top 10 just twice. In four tournaments since switching, he’s finished 98th, 33rd, withdrawn and was lying in 30th place in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at press timerallied to finish 8th at the WGC Cadillac Championship (though still nine shots behind winner Tiger Woods). Ten days ago at the Honda Classic, he abandoned his second round after butchering his first eight holes and hitting into the water on the ninth.

He initially blamed his exit on toothache, but, to his credit, has since apologized, admitting that frustrations with his swing were the real reason.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but McIlroy’s downfall has been all too predictable. There is a long list of golfers who have struggled with new clubs.

McIlroy’s carefree, open personality makes him the diametric opposite of Tiger Woods, whose distrust of the media is as legendary as his love of blondes. But in this particular case, Rory could have taken a leaf out of Tiger’s book: Woods spent five years testing his new clubs before switching; McIlroy did it in a matter of months.

Life won’t get easier for the Northern Irishman any time soon, especially now that Woods is looking to reclaim the top spot in the world rankings. McIlroy’s poor form has even been blamed on his high-profile relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, as the spotlight intensifies and the media dogs circle.

Further down the line, McIlroy has yet to choose whether to represent Ireland or Great Britain at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, a political hot potato that is so sensitive he says he may not play at all.

Maybe he’s better off trying that hockey stick and orange combination after all.

Article reprinted from today’s Global Times. Final thought: I’ve covered Rory at several major tournaments and he genuinely seems like a good guy. Here’s hoping he doesn’t succumb to the Nike curse

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