Martin Dempster: Rory McIlroy deserves respect over Irish Open

Bloody hell. We’ve not even reached March, yet it seems golf has been hit with more controversies already in 2019 than the whole of last year. Add Rory McIlroy being slaughtered for deciding to skip this year’s Irish Open and allegations of “cheating” over a backstopping incident on the LPGA to a list that already had Sergio Garcia intentionally damaging greens, slow-play rows and new rules causing stooshies since welcoming in a new year.
Rory McIlroy poses with the Irish Open trophy in 2016, but the 29-year-old will miss this years tournament. Picture: Getty.Rory McIlroy poses with the Irish Open trophy in 2016, but the 29-year-old will miss this years tournament. Picture: Getty.
Rory McIlroy poses with the Irish Open trophy in 2016, but the 29-year-old will miss this years tournament. Picture: Getty.

As had been rumoured since the end of last year, McIlroy is set to tee up in the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club in July, opting to use that event as his main preparation for the Open Championship at Royal Portrush, where the game’s oldest
major is returning for the first time since 1951, rather than the Irish Open at Lahinch the previous week.

The decision has not gone down well at all with some people. In an article in the Irish Independent,
sports columnist Roy Curtis claimed McIlroy missing out on his home Open was “an insult to the national intelligence” and described it as “the latest mystifying and infuriating lunge from a superstar increasingly astray, a wildly wobbling champion”.

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Strong stuff and, as a fellow columnist, I am well aware that you rarely express an opinion that is met with universal approval. Never,
in fact. It’s no wonder, though, that this particular viewpoint has had cold water poured on it from 
within the golfing world because it simply didn’t give McIlroy the credit he deserves when it comes to the Irish Open.

McIlroy has played in the event 11 years in a row from 2008, winning it in 2016 at The K Club after making two eagles in the final three holes. Through the Rory Foundation, he hosted the tournament from 2015 to 2018, helping it gain Rolex Series status with a prize fund of $7 million. With that in mind, it is quite astonishing that Curtis felt moved to effectively hang him out to dry.

Yes, of course, his decision to skip the event is a blow to Paul McGinley, the tournament host on this occasion. The 2014 Ryder Cup-winning captain would love to assemble the strongest field he possibly can at the County Clare venue and there is no denying McIlroy remains the biggest draw by far on the European Tour (when he’s a playing member, as will be the case when the summer comes around).

However, it will surely be one of the greatest moments in Irish sport if the 29-year-old repeats his 2014 Claret Jug success at Royal Liverpool on home soil and, though personally not always in agreement about what McIlroy does and says, there can be no denying that he is not scared to make tough decisions and why on earth should he not be respected for that?

Moving on to those “cheating” allegations in the ladies’ game, in my humble opinion anyone who actually thought that was the case in an incident involving American Amy Olson and Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn, the world No 1 and winner of the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open at Gullane last summer, should hang their heads in shame.

You really need to see a video to get a proper idea of what happened in the second round of the Honda LPGA Thailand event, but, basically,
Jutanugarn chipped dead from short right of the green and, with her ball still on the green, Olson played her shot from a similar spot, hit Jutanugarn’s ball and saw her own stop close to the hole.

That led to claims of “backstopping”, an illegal practice in the game with the general penalty being two strokes to the players involved, but there was clearly no intent whatsoever in this instance, even though they did a fist bump on the way to the green which may have given an impression otherwise.

“The situation on Friday was 
innocent,” said Olson in a statement issued over the weekend. “There was no collusion and no intent on either of our parts for me to gain an advantage. The fact that Ariya gave me a fist bump shows that she’s a classy individual who celebrates other people’s success – just like she did earlier that day on hole 10 when I made an eagle and she routinely does with anyone she’s playing with.

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“However, we are competitors and anyone who used the word ‘cheater’ to apply to Ariya or me should be held accountable for their words. To those who have presumed to know our intent and accused us from behind their computer or phone screen, remember that we are real people with reputations, character,
and values we live out daily. The things that have been said have been extremely hurtful and have made the past two days some of the hardest I’ve ever had to go through.”

What next in this year of