McIlroy in predicament over Olympic affiliation

By Rex HoggardSeptember 11, 2012, 7:30 pm

On Sunday Rory McIlroy won the BMW Championship. On Monday he won what may turn out to be an even greater contest for cultural context.

It is mathematically telling that McIlroy’s 495-word open letter that he released to the public via his Twitter account was just 17 more words than the total amount of world ranking points (478) he’s collected this season, the most by anyone; and just 37 words short of his combined winning stroke-totals (532) the last two weeks at the BMW and Deutsche Bank championships.

Or maybe it’s as simple as 3.2, that’s McIlroy’s lead over No. 2 Tiger Woods in the world ranking, and yet the headlines on Monday fixated on an event that will be held four years from now in Brazil. An event that McIlroy, or anyone else for that matter, hasn’t even qualified for.


Video: McIlroy's dominance and Olympic delimma


Instead of marveling at the 23-year-old’s play of late, the talking points have drifted to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and comments McIlroy made last week to the Daily Mail as to his intentions to play for either the United Kingdom or Ireland.

“What makes it such an awful position to be in is I have grown up my whole life playing for Ireland under the Golfing Union of Ireland umbrella. But the fact is, I’ve always felt more British than Irish,” McIlroy told the Daily Mail.

In some Irish and British circles this comment was viewed as tacit acknowledgement of McIlroy’s intentions to play for the United Kingdom when golf returns to the Games, which is his right having grown up in Northern Ireland.

The media storm that followed prompted McIlroy’s open letter. “I wish to clarify that I have absolutely not made a decision regarding my participation in the next Olympics,” he wrote.

But then the one thing McIlroy doesn’t appear capable of buying these days is the benefit of the doubt. Unrealistic expectations have become the norm for the Ulsterman, first with comparisons to Woods following his eight-stroke masterpiece last month at the PGA Championship and now this, a nationalist corner many seem determined to back him into.

This is not an attempt to dismiss the religious and political divide that still exists in Northern Ireland. During a trip to Belfast last year while researching a feature on McIlroy your correspondent was surprised to learn that our visit corresponded with the marches, which occur each year on July 12 and sometimes still result in violence.

Some speculate that it is the marches that prompted the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews to slow play a possible return of the Open Championship to Royal Portrush, which is the only venue outside of England and Scotland to host the event.

But this isn’t about politics or religion. It is about a young man who, at least to some on both sides of the Ulster border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, transcends these historical divides. McIlroy’s family is catholic but he grew up in a fairly protestant neighborhood and attended a protestant school.

He has also been quick to point out how influential the Golfing Union of Ireland was to his development and wrote on Monday, “I am a proud product of Irish golf.” Having been born in 1989 it’s also worth noting that McIlroy was never exposed to the troubles.

“My honest opinion is he is transcending the sport in this country. He is a wonderful example of a modern thinking individual. We are blessed to have him and we should be celebrating him instead of getting caught up in old arguments,” said Shane O’Donoghue, an Irish journalist who has covered McIlroy since he was a teenager. “What he is doing is unique. Because of his youth he has never gotten caught up with what is an old issue.”

There is a growing fear that when the time comes McIlroy will sidestep the issue and simply not participate in the 2016 Olympics, which, given his current lofty status, would be a shame for the Games and McIlroy.

For now, however, McIlroy is proving to be a youthful voice of reason, focusing instead on his historic summer and the looming Ryder Cup, where no one questions his loyalties.

There will be plenty of time in the years before the ’16 Olympics to dissect McIlroy’s choices, but that time is not now. He will have to make tough decisions, but until then the only unrealistic expectations he should have to face need to be on the golf course.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.

 

 

Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."


Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout


Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.