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Rory McIlroy's 7 Most Controversial Moments

By: | Tue 30 Jun 2020 | Comments

Throughout his starry golf career, Rory McIlroy has always been uniquely capable of generating hype and controversy. Now back to world number one for the first time in five years, McIlroy hasn’t wasted any time getting back in the headlines because of his comments either, criticising European players who didn’t want to make the trip over to play in the US due to fears about the coronavirus and self-isolating, and most recently claiming it would be “silly” for the PGA Tour to shut down again amid concerns of a second wave. In typical McIlroy fashion, these views have seen him come in for plenty of criticism. But, believe it or not, such controversy is quite tame by his usual standards, as this list of his seven most controversial moments shows.

Dissing the Ryder Cup

For many players – and, indeed, these days for McIlroy himself – the Ryder Cup is as good as it gets. Second to maybe winning a major, nothing could top the thrill players such as Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and others get from representing Europe and throwing down against the USA, but in 2009 a fledgling McIlroy claimed he wasn’t interested in all that. Asked about his interest in making the Ryder Cup team, he said “[The Ryder Cup] is not a huge goal of mine. It’s an exhibition at the end of the day… I’m not going to go running around fist-pumping.” The comments provoked an icy response from then Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie – who promptly replied that “the Ryder Cup is most definitely not an exhibition” – although McIlroy quickly changed his tune once he made the team and has thankfully been a fully-paid-up Ryder Cup staple for Team Europe ever since.

Rejecting the Olympics

Those who have followed McIlroy over the years will know that the Ryder Cup wasn’t the only top event the Northern Irishman poured water on. You’d have thought he’d have learned from his dressing down from Monty, but no – in 2016, McIlroy was one of several high-profile players who skipped the Olympics. At first, he claimed he was skipping it on account of the Zika virus, but then seemed to suggest another reason: he couldn’t be bothered. He publicly questioned golf’s Olympic credentials, even saying that “I’m not sure golf will be one of the events I’ll watch […] I’ll watch track and field, swimming, diving – you know, ones that matter.” Oof.

Rory McIlroy

Withdrawing From the Honda Classic

Fresh off of dumping Titleist for Nike in a multimillion-pound move, McIlroy hit a run of bad form which culminated in one of his lowest professional ebbs when he withdrew from the Honda Classic after just 26 holes. Withdrawals are a touchy subject in pro golf generally – in fact, even your average club golfer usually cops a fair bit of stick for walking off in a monthly medal – but two factors made McIlroy’s much worse. First, he was the defending champion, so had an extra obligation to see out the tournament. Second, he didn’t appear to have any excuse other than bad play. A press statement about toothache was duly trotted out by his press team, although McIlroy salvaged some credit when all but admitted that this was nonsense. “I regret what I did. It won’t happen again. There is no excuse for quitting,” he said.

Nearly Missing his Singles Tee Time in the 2012 Ryder Cup

McIlroy almost, ALMOST, caused one of the most infamous sporting upsets of all time when he narrowly avoided missing his match against Keegan Bradley on the final day of the 2012 Ryder Cup, now known as The Miracle at Medinah. That day, now etched into Ryder Cup history for Europe’s spectacular comeback against the USA, was almost ruined because talisman McIlroy bungled his time zones. However, he made it to the course in the end and when he triumphed over Keegan 2&1 all was (mostly) forgiven.

Defending Patrick Reed Over THAT Bunker Incident

Given McIlroy’s famously edgy match with the American at the 2016 Ryder Cup, and his heartbreak at being beaten by Reed in the Masters two years later, many were amazed to see McIlroy effectively defend Patrick Reed when he was caught blatantly improving his lie at the Hero World Challenge last year. To be fair, McIlroy did provide a level of nuance in his response, saying that “it’s very hard for me not to think he didn’t feel what he was doing. It’s a hard one.” But his overall approach seemed to be to absolve Reed, also saying that “I don’t think it would be a big deal if it wasn’t Patrick Reed. A lot of people within the game, it’s almost a hobby to kick him while he’s down.”   

Rory McIlroy

The Spat With Horizon

Another controversial moment ensured in 2013 when McIlroy left Horizon Sports Management, the management company of his then close mate Graeme McDowell, to form his own management group, presumably because he wanted more money. Unfortunately for McIlroy however, Horizon claimed that he was doing so unlawfully, his contract with them having yet to expire. Reports of a consequent rift between McIlroy and McDowell were rife at the time, but both players claimed that the rumours were exaggerated (although McIlroy did make this cryptic comment in a TV interview: “If you want to be in the circus, you have to put up with the clowns”). McIlroy has since patched things up with McDowell and Horizon, with the sports star presumed to have settled with the group for £20m in 2015.

Playing Golf With Donald Trump

Dance with the devil? How about play golf with Donald Trump? In 2017, McIlroy stirred up perhaps his biggest controversy when he teed it up with the human butternut squash in Florida, a move which many viewed as disrespectful to the vast amounts of people Trump has harmed through his documented racism, sexism and questionable politics. Of course, McIlroy was right when he quickly pointed out that just playing golf with someone doesn’t mean you endorse their character, but, especially in recent years when so many brave people have taken a stand against Trump’s behaviour (including, of late, McIlroy himself), it is unsurprising that McIlroy’s decision rankled.

Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography

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