News & Opinion

McIlroy faces crossroads in a lost year

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Rory McIlroy doesn’t know what he’s going to do. About anything. About his rib injury that hasn’t fully healed. About his flagging golf game. About his caddie. About whether he’s going to play the rest of the season or just shut it down until 2018.

This has been no better than a lost year for McIlroy. For the third straight year, he hasn’t won a major championship, and in 2017, he hasn’t even contended – in any of them.

No wonder he feels like he just might go home and not do much of anything.

McIlroy flew home to Northern Ireland on Sunday night and will take the week to decide what his next steps are to be. He finished the PGA Championship on a fairly upbeat note, shooting 68 in the final round to tie for 22nd. But, as he said, “You don't want to be teeing off at 9:45 [a.m.] in the final round of a major on a Sunday. That is not where you want to be.”

He ended the PGA at 1-over 285, well and truly out of the hunt all week. After his round, he said his rhomboid muscle near his rib cage had started to spasm, just like it had after every round. He maintains that he can play 18 holes of golf but has problems afterward.

McIlroy injured the rib in the spring and took 7-8 weeks off, as prescribed, and came back for the Masters. He said it bothered him a great deal at the Players Championship, and it hasn’t been right since.

Now, he’s unsure what to do next. He’s wrestling with whether he plays in the FedEx Cup playoffs, which begin next week. “I feel like I'm capable and playing well enough to give myself a chance in it,” he said. “At the same time, April is a long way away. That's the next big thing on my radar.”

As they say in the U.K., McIlroy is of two minds.

“I feel like a sense of not [exactly] duty, but I've missed a lot of time already,” he said. “If I'm capable of playing, I feel like, why shouldn't you? But then at the same time, if you are not capable of playing at your best, why should you play? So, again, it's a Catch-22.”

It’s been a year of distractions for McIlroy. First, the rib injury that cost him a great deal of time on Tour. Then, he married to Erica Stoll on April 21, which was called the wedding of the century by some observers.

Anyone who has been married knows that even with the best wedding planner, the groom still must help make a million decisions. A wedding that size is a giant distraction – for anyone, much less the No. 4 golfer in the world.

Then, there’s the caddie business. McIlroy and J.P. Fitzgerald had been together for nearly 10 years. Fitzgerald had been on the bag for all of McIlroy’s victories, notably the four major championships.

But McIlroy decided that he needed a change. And the caddie is usually the first to go, so Fitzgerald was let go after McIlroy’s T-4 at the British Open.

“J.P. has been a huge part of my life for the last decade,” McIlroy said at the time. “A lot of great times on and off the golf course. I still consider J.P. one of my best friends, but sometimes to preserve a personal relationship, you might have to sacrifice a professional one, and that was sort of the decision that I came to in the end. 

“I felt like it was the right thing to do, and I don’t think there was any good time to do it.”

Harry Diamond, the best man at McIlroy’s wedding and a close childhood friend from Northern Ireland, has been on the bag for the last two events: the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship. McIlroy has been fielding numerous inquiries from full-time candidates for the job.

But he’s unsure what to do next about another caddie. A lot will depend on the decisions that he makes about his schedule. 

Upon returning home, he will meet with his trainer, Steve McGregor, and they will evaluate McIlroy’s ribs. Until then, the whole thing is up in the air.

“Look, I don't know what I'm going to do,” McIlroy said. “You might not see me until next year. You might see me in a couple of weeks’ time. It really depends.”

It depends on his health. It depends on his focus. But most of all, it depends on how badly he wants to do something, anything to salvage this year.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf