Martin Dempster: McIlroy’s ignorance astonishing

McIlroy claimed he had 'better things to do' than remain up to speed with the rules. Picture: Reuters
McIlroy claimed he had 'better things to do' than remain up to speed with the rules. Picture: Reuters
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ON THE one hand, Rory McIlroy hardly put a foot wrong in his first appearance of 2014, producing a performance in the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that was majestic at times and augured well for his hopes in this season’s majors.

But, on the other, the Northern Irishman really put his size nines in it, so to speak, by coming out with an astonishing remark as he was grilled on the two-shot penalty for a rules infringement that effectively cost him a winning start to the year as he was pipped for the title by Pablo Larrazabal.

McIlroy was asked, innocently enough by a colleague in the media centre in the Westin Hotel that sits next to Abu Dhabi Golf Club and its majestic falcon-shaped clubhouse, if top players like himself either “referred to” or “kept updating” themselves on the Rules of Golf.

“No,” he replied, foolishly. “I guess that’s why we’ve got the referees here. They sort of do that stuff. I’ve got better things to think about.”

Seriously, “better things to think about”? It was an astonishing thing to say and, sadly, another example of the immaturity McIlroy displays every now and again to take the gloss off his astonishing talent.

It happened in the Open Championship at Royal St George’s three years ago when he came out with a ridiculous remark about “not having the game” to win on a links course.

Bluntly, McIlroy has the game to win on any type of course and he should know that. There’s no finer sight in the sport than watching him rip his driver the way he did in the UAE and it, hopefully, was just a taste of things to come this year.

To say, however, that he did not really have to know the Rules of Golf because he had the safety net of others being there to keep him right was a joke. Where was that safety net on Saturday when he breached Rule 25/1 by failing to take full relief from a spectator walkway and played a shot to the second green with his left foot standing on the white line?

While JP Fitzgerald, McIlroy’s own caddie, didn’t spot the infringement – and he should be taking a stern look in the mirror because of that – the more experienced Dave Renwick did.

It wouldn’t have mattered to Renwick if it had been Rory McIlroy or Rory Bremner. A rule had been broken and he could not have lived with himself if he had turned a blind eye.

He had to alert McIlroy and did so after he holed out at the 18th, asking him to have a look at the shot again before signing for his card and risking potential disqualification.

Simon Dyson, serving a suspended two-month ban at present over an incident in last season’s BMW Masters, may have few friends in the locker room at present but don’t expect Renwick to be given the cold shoulder for “ratting” on one of the game’s big guns. Far from it, in fact.

“Of course there wouldn’t be any animosity towards Dave,” insisted Stephen Gallacher. “A rule is a rule, no matter how miniscule it is, and you’ve still broken the rule. Therefore, I don’t think Rory will be saying anything about it”

This was the second time in three years that McIlroy had fallen foul of those rules in the same event, losing out on the title on each occasion. Add in Tiger Woods finding himself at the centre of a string of rules controversies last year and other players, including Padraig Harrington, opening themselves up to penalties in recent years and it’s no wonder people are starting to ask questions.

“I think we may get lazy because we’ve got referees,” admitted Gallacher in offering his honest opinion on McIlroy’s mistake. “If you’re ever in doubt there are refs around. I did the same thing (as McIlroy) at the 18th in the third round. I dropped it off a spectator walkway there as well.”

It’s bad enough that golf has so many stupid rules, some of which will be broken occasionally and, in the process, show the game in a bad light. Players have a duty, however, to know those rules as well as they possibly can and not breach them as carelessly as we are seeing.

The last time the European Tour tried to help, a series of seminars were poorly attended. Try again, I say, and this time make attendance mandatory for every single member.