While Rory McIlroy has never been scared to say what’s on his mind, did he really need to be so outspoken last week on Muirfield, especially on the back of the revered East Lothian course being restored to the Open Championship rota following the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers voting in favour of admitting women members?
Yes, of course, it was a black day for golf - Scotland, too - when a first attempt to bring the club into the 21st century failed last May, after which McIlroy really hit the nail on the head in terms of what the vast majority felt at that time by saying he hoped the Muirfield members would “see some sense one day”.
In fairness, McIlroy acknowledged that had “sort of” happened after a second ballot secured the two-thirds majority required, but there was no warm welcome from the 2014 Open champion to the venue being immediately put back on the R&A’s rota for the game’s oldest major. Far from it, in fact.
“We’ll go back and we’ll play the Open Championship because they let women in, but every time I go to Muirfield now I won’t have a great taste in my mouth,” he said, before becoming more vociferous after being asked about the fact that 123 members had still voted “no”. “It’s horrendous,” he added. “I just don’t get it and I won’t be having many cups of tea with the members afterwards.”
While he will have been applauded loudly by some for those remarks, they are actually disrespectful to the 498 members who supported the proposal second time around, the majority having done so at the first time of asking, too, when it had come up just 14 votes short.
McIlroy, of course, is entitled to his opinion, but, on this occasion, would it not have been better keeping some of those thoughts to himself? After all, it’s just created a storyline that the next staging of an Open Championship, which is likely to be in either 2022 or 2023, could really do without.
There’s absolutely no denying that first vote did damage and, even after getting the proposal through, Henry Fairweather, the captain of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, made no attempt to suggest the matter had to be swept under the carpet. At the same time, though, it should be remembered that members give up their courses every single week to allow the likes of McIlroy to show off his talent.
There was a video posted on social media earlier this year during the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am that showed Phil Mickelson addressing members of Monterey Peninsula, one of the other courses used for that event. “I wanted you to know all the players are appreciative of you guys giving up the course this week,” said Mickelson. “You haven’t heard it from us directly, but I just wanted you to know. I know it sucks for you guys, giving up the course for a week, but we are all very appreciative of that.”
McIlroy has probably said the same thing himself at events over the years and will know through his own involvement these days with the Irish Open that an appreciation of the sacrifices clubs have to make stage tournaments, admittedly getting the chance to showcase themselves in the process, is required.
Unfortunately, that’s been forgotten in this instance and, as a consequence, McIlroy made no friends at Muirfield with those remarks last week. One member, in fact, wasted no time in making contact with this correspondent to describe the four-time major winner in far from complimentary terms and it really is a shame that unnecessary friction has been caused.
What will be sticking in the throats of some about McIlroy’s comments, of course, is that they were made at a time when feelings are still fresh about him playing golf recently with US president Donald Trump, who has been widely condemned for his attitudes towards women. The Northern Irishman strongly defended that decision, saying that it was out of “respect” for the office that Trump now holds. The majority of the Muirfield members deserve that same respect, surely, and let’s hope that McIlroy’s view, which has also been influenced, unfortunately, by his only early exit from an Open Championship in 2013, about returning there in the not too distance changes somewhat because some of the game’s greats lifted the Claret Jug there and he’s certainly in that category.