Apparently there are two ways a professional golfer can deal with the aftermath of a very public marriage engagement cancellation on the eve of an important tournament.
He can wallow on the couch stuffing his face with heaping spoonfuls of Haagen-Dazs in between blubbering sobs, watching romantic comedies and wondering if he’ll ever find true love again.
Or he can channel that distress into renewed energy on the course, posting a final-round 66 to improbably triumph over a collection of talented contenders.
Rory McIlroy chose the latter.
Let’s not mix messages here, though. McIlroy’s victory at the BMW PGA Championship on Sunday shouldn’t be celebrated for “showing courage when faced with adversity”; it shouldn’t be hailed as “fearless” or “daring” or any other unnecessary hyperbole.
He opened the week by announcing he’d broken off his engagement to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, issuing a statement that read in part, "It was mutual, and we both thought it was the best for us, the best for both of us. Time to move on, and I've said all that I need to say."
He had, undoubtedly – and yet, being the uncommonly honest superstar that he is, McIlroy continued discussing the situation with reporters, reciting that the breakup was “difficult” numerous times during a brief interview session.
That was on Wednesday, the day before he began the opening round at Wentworth and four days before he stormed from seven strokes down to claim an elusive title.
In the minutes directly after the win, he remained forthright.
McIlroy didn’t spout any rhetoric about needing a victory to help soothe his soul. He didn’t contend that professional achievement will help overcome personal burden. He didn’t maintain that all he needed was a refreshing dose of independence to return to the winner’s circle.
Instead, he appeared like any other 25-year-old who still doesn’t have all the answers to life.
“It’s a roller coaster,” he said of the past week. “I’m not exactly sure how I’m feeling right now, to be honest. I’m happy that I won, obviously, It’s great for my career and it’s great for everything.
“Mixed emotions, I guess you could say.”
All of which makes terrific sense from a guy who could be excused for a lack of sensibility after riding this emotional spectrum. It takes some people months, years, maybe even entire lifetimes to endure such low lows and high highs that McIlroy felt this past week.
If it comes as a surprise that he was able to funnel the stress of a broken engagement into a stellar performance, then it should be even more shocking that it happened at this venue.
McIlroy’s career record at Wenworth previously showed just a single top-20 finish in six starts with three missed cuts, including each of the last two years. During his Wednesday press conference when he spoke about his private life, one reporter broke the tension by suggesting, “At least you’re at a golf course that you love.” Even McIlroy laughed at that one.
This wasn’t just his first win at the European Tour’s flagship event. It was his first win anywhere this year, his first win on the Euro Tour in exactly 18 months and – this one is tough to imagine – his first win on European soil. Ever.
It’s true. Check the records: His 11 previous wins had come on three different continents – North America, Asia and Australia. He’d won in Washington D.C. and Dubai, Hong Kong and Sydney. But the European-born McIlroy had reached No. 1 in the world and won two majors and become an international superstar without ever having raised a trophy in Europe.
Maybe that’s what was going through his mind as he was handed the hardware on Sunday afternoon.
Standing on the final green with massive amounts of supporters still populating the surrounding gallery, he was asked how he felt in the wake of this victory.
McIlroy paused for a few seconds, his innate honesty keeping him from spouting a perfunctory response that wasn’t a reflection of his innermost thoughts. He pursed his lips. Then he answered.
He clarified that answer by explaining how long it had been since he’d won on the European Tour and noting how much he’d struggled at this tournament in the past.
He didn’t have to explain the rest of it.
After a tumultuous week, McIlroy’s victory wasn’t courageous or fearless or daring, but it unquestionably left him feeling relieved that it was finally behind him.