ATLANTA – Rory McIlroy deserves an apology. He deserves to be told that what he said Wednesday morning wasn’t stoking any flames of the competitive fires. He deserves to be assured that his candor won’t always be met with such derision.
The problem is that it shouldn’t come from a single source, but instead a large percentage of those who only heard a brief snippet of his comments and decided to portray them in negative terms.
During a pre-tournament news conference, McIlroy was asked an innocuous question about Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson missing the Tour Championship for the first time since 1992 and offered up a similarly innocuous – and honest – response.
“They're just getting older,” he answered. “Phil's 43 or whatever he is and Tiger's nearly 40. So they're getting into the sort of last few holes of their career. And that's what happens.”
In literal terms, McIlroy was right; Woods and Mickelson are getting older. Until the technology comes along that allows us to reverse time, that course of human nature will afflict us all.
In figurative terms, he was also right; Woods has been playing professional golf for 19 years, Mickelson for 23. If they're not on the last few holes of their careers yet, I can't wait to see what's on tap over the next few decades.
Despite listing facts and offering them in a thoughtful manner as opposed to simply reciting rhetoric spoon-fed from a PR flak, McIlroy's comments were distorted into blustery bravado from this generation's biggest superstar.
It was perceived as him writing off Woods and Mickelson as done and gone. It was treated as if he was tugging on the capes of a couple of Supermen.
McIlroy felt the reaction, too. By early evening, he issued a postscript to his comments via Twitter.
“Got a question today about Tiger and Phil... Gave an honest answer, was very complimentary about the 2 best golfers of this generation. … Golfers on average have a 20-25 year career, both into the back 9 of their careers... Don't think there's anything wrong with saying that.”
Kudos to him for not backtracking, for not insisting he was misquoted or didn't understand the question. He stood behind his thoughts, only feeling the need to clarify any misconceptions.
As impressive as the four-time major champion is inside the ropes, he's equally impressive in the interview room, where he doesn’t hold back from providing thoughtful responses. If more of them become overblown, though, if his honest opinion continues to be misconstrued for bravado, we run the risk of him staying mum on these issues and only offering up vanilla responses.
That’s a risk which doesn’t have a potential reward at the end.