herald

Monday 1 September 2014

Rory ticks one more box

IT IS Rory to his mates. And Rory McIlroy has a lot of mates now. Wedge to the tune of €100m over five years buys you a lot of chummy accolades as well as profile.

"Thanks for being with us Rory, you are a true role model in the world of golf." This was delivered by the anchor from CNN but it might have been anybody within shouting distance of a microphone.

Perched high on a stool beside his Nike clubs, casually rigged out in his new apparel with the Abu Dhabi night sky shimmering behind him, McIlroy looked every inch the golfing successor to Tiger Woods and a fitting member of sport's blue-chip brotherhood alongside those other disciples of the swoosh, Cristiano Ronaldo, Roger Federer, LeBron James and Michael Jordan.

Among McIlroy's many attributes is his willingness to engage openly and honestly with his inquisitors in the media. To his credit, there was even humility in the scripted delivery of the Nike message, as if he understood and sympathised with the listener for having to sit through this stage-managed mush. The authenticity comes with the way he swings a club.

Nike are buying proven goods. The deal, believed to extend over five years initially, has the potential to run for 20 or more. It is difficult to overstate the marketing case for McIlroy, who seems to have been with us two lifetimes already yet is only 23. He fills the space beside Woods in the inaugural Nike ad without blinking.

He says he is more than satisfied with his new equipment, smashing the ball even greater distances than he did with the trusted Titleist weaponry. We shall see for ourselves on Thursday when he tees off for the first time this year. And you can stick the mortgage on McIlroy and Woods going out together in the opening two rounds of the HSBC Champions tournament.

Awesome

"The driver is awesome. I'm really excited about the Nike equipment. I was blown away with the technology. As soon as I hit (the driver), I knew it was in my bag straight away. It is the best. The ball has been fantastic. All the clubs are great. I can't be happier with what's in my bag right now. Everything has really fallen into place for me."

Yes, you are right. He would say that, wouldn't he, and this, for that matter. "I chose Nike for a number of reasons. It's a company and a brand that really resonates with me. It's young. It's athletic. It's innovative. They are committed to being the best, as am I. Signing with Nike is another step towards living out my dream." Well, what would you spout for $25m a year?

From his days in short trousers chipping balls into washing machines to his under-10 world championship at Doral, to winning his European Tour card as a 17-year-old, to his first major success at the US Open at 21 by a record margin, the McIlroy comet has been orbiting on a higher plane.

He even loses, big. The visceral suffering at the Masters in 2011, his head slumped in the crook of his arm after finding water at 13th, might have been cast by Steven Spielberg. The response two months later at Congressional, winning the US Open by eight shots, was indeed a work of fable.

This is the kind of narrative we imagine for ourselves as kids when we putt for the Open Championship at the local municipal. McIlroy attacked the greatest test a golfer can face, before a global audience of millions, with boyish innocence and enthusiasm.

And America, a nation for whom the comeback is central to identity, loved him for it. Few in the environs of Augusta could tell you the name of the winner the day after McIlroy's demise, let alone spell it.

Charl Schwartzel did what none in the history of the game had managed in claiming the Masters crown, birdied the last four holes on Sunday, yet it was McIlroy who dominated the golfing conversation over breakfast on Monday.

Embellished

Schwartzel, himself a Nike client, could win another three Masters titles and still not walk the same ground as McIlroy. The legend, subsequently embellished with the addition of a second major at last year's PGA championship and his comedy arrival by police patrol car at the Ryder Cup in September, is fixed in the imaginations of all who love the game.

The Nike association is one more brick in the McIlroy wall. Does he feel any more pressure as a consequence of the cheque in his pocket? If he does, you would not know it.

"If I live up to my own expectations I will not have any problem living up to the expectations of others," he said. And that one he came up with all on his own.

"Hopefully that will translate into many more tournament wins and more success at the majors."

Opinion

Entertainment News