McIlroy learning to deal with increased spotlight

By Jason SobelMarch 4, 2013, 7:00 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Someone needs to explain this one to me.

When Rory McIlroy won the U.S. Open by eight strokes two years ago, he did so under a probing microscope with all of the attention focused solely on him. Same for when he won last year’s Honda Classic and became the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer for the first time. And again at the PGA Championship, where he also won by eight with even more eyeballs watching his every maneuver.

Yet this past week, when McIlroy scrambled away from PGA National without even finishing his ninth hole in the second round of the Honda, citing severe tooth pain that affected his concentration, there was a prevailing feeling that he was struggling to handle the pressure in an appropriate manner. The pressure of being No. 1; the pressure of living up to the standards of his mammoth new Nike Golf contract; the pressure of the media’s watchful eye.

How quickly we forget.


Posnanski: McIlroy facing crippling pressure of being No. 1


It may have been a mistake to walk off mid-round – check that, it was a mistake – but this was clearly more isolated incident than repeated pattern. If the 23-year-old has proven anything in recent years, it’s that the maturity level of his golf game may be surpassed only by his maturity level as a person.

Let’s face it: He not only survives in the spotlight, he thrives in it.

Even so, McIlroy’s recent withdrawal has placed a spotlight on the spotlight, so to speak, drawing attention to all of the attention that he draws on a daily basis. There are very few people who will ever understand what it’s like to live in that spotlight – and even fewer who understand what it’s like to try to hit a golf ball in it. Those who do contend that it’s only natural for McIlroy to wrestle with the notion at times.

“I've been through it for a long time,” Tiger Woods said. “This is a slightly different era, as well. It's even faster than what it was when I came out. Things are instantaneous around the world.”

“Tiger grew up with it since he was a child,” explains Martin Kaymer. “All the media, all the attention. But for the rest of us, it’s not normal. It really takes some time.”

Kaymer is a perfect example of a player who has shied away from that spotlight. After climbing the world ranking and even winning a major championship in relative mainstream anonymity, he became No. 1 early in the 2011 season and immediately learned about life in that bubble.

“Everything you do, everything you say all of a sudden becomes very important. You’re not really used to that,” Kaymer continues. “He should enjoy being here and I don’t think that he’s doing that at the moment. It’s very tough when someone is that young in the spotlight. Obviously, he made it himself because of his success, but on the other hand, people should take it a little bit easier or else we might lose him. He’s such a great player. Now he’s going through a tough time and has to find his own way to deal with it.”

Ask any elite player and he will contend that the pressure intensifies as the profile grows. Internal pressure, yes, but external pressure as well. In particular, it’s the media scrutiny which can force second-guessing and confidence loss and myriad other residual issues.

“He’s so young and I think the media makes it tough for him,” Kaymer says. “There are more expectations, because of you guys. It’s true. Media and the Facebook and the Twitter; it all makes a difference. Even if you try to avoid it, sometimes you get confronted by it. You hear different opinions even though you don’t ask for them. It does happen and it does make a difference to your attitude. That’s just how it is. It’s not very nice. He’s 23 years old. He should enjoy playing golf, not having to deal with all that crap.”

“It must be so tough,” said Charl Schwartzel, who tasted his share of the attention after winning the 2011 Masters. “All he wants to do is play golf and everyone is all over him and bothering him. The guy just wants to play golf. I feel sorry for him.”

“We were still in fax machines, things were a little bit slower,” Woods recalls about being a 23-year-old superstar. “You've just got to think about it a little bit more before you say something or do something. It can get out of hand, especially when you get into social media and start tweeting and all those different things that can go wrong.”

There aren’t many fellow players who know McIlroy as well as Graeme McDowell, a friend and countryman who has also served as a de facto big brother over the years. He has witnessed firsthand the omnipresent surveillance that continually follows him.

“You know, it’s a lot to deal with for a young kid,” McDowell admits. “He’s surprised me a lot the last couple of years, how he’s taken this in stride winning two major championships, world No. 1. He’s really taken it in stride unbelievably well. But something’s got to give. It’s just not that easy dealing with thoughts inside your head, trying to play for other people, trying to prove things to other people.”

All of which leads to the original conundrum: Did McIlroy’s poor decision at the Honda happen because of that increased pressure? Or did the pressure increase because of his poor decision?

When in doubt with such golf-related questions, we can do a lot worse than listen to Jack Nicklaus. Another man who has served as a mentor of sorts to McIlroy, the 18-time major champion owns keen insight on what it takes to balance proper decisions both inside the ropes and out.

“He shouldn’t have walked off the golf course; that was unfortunate,” Nicklaus maintains. “If he had thought about it for five minutes, he wouldn’t have done it. I think he’s a good kid, a sharp kid. I think he’s probably just so frustrated with what’s happening with the way he’s played the last month or so that it just got to him.”

The Golden Bear contended that, “When the Masters rolls around, Rory McIlroy is going to be playing just fine,” but knowledge about the game doesn’t always translate into successful soothsaying. And so we’re left guessing and predicting, constantly attempting to interpret how every machination could affect his impending prospects.

Meanwhile, the superstars – from McIlroy to any number of household names – try to refrain from paying attention to the attention. They live in cocoons, wrapped so tightly the outside world sometimes can’t get in. Other times, though, that pressure is too much to contain. It seeps in, eating at them. It can destroy confidence and hurt performance.

Is this what happened to McIlroy this past week? Did the pressure become too much that he simply had to crawl back into that cocoon? I don’t think so. I don’t believe that a player who has lived in the spotlight for this long suddenly gets exposed by the microscope.

What I do believe is that it’s at least now an issue. A boy wonder who rarely flailed in the face of so many eyeballs is now being questioned as to whether he can handle the spotlight. And the only thing that will make the conversation dissipate is a quick and easy return to the leaderboard.

“He really just needs to get a couple of decent rounds under his belt and away he’ll go,” McDowell thinks. “But until then, there’s going to be a lot of inner talk and a lot of distraction in his head. It’s only a matter of time. But it’s a distraction. There’s no doubt about that. It’s not as easy as he’s made the game look these last couple of years.”

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Caddies drop lawsuit; Tour increases healthcare stipend

By Rex HoggardOctober 18, 2018, 3:33 pm

After nearly four years of litigation, a group of PGA Tour caddies have dropped their lawsuit against the circuit.

The lawsuit, which was filed in California in early 2015, centered on the bibs caddies wear during tournaments and ongoing attempts by the caddies to improve their healthcare and retirement options.

The caddies lost their class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court and an appeal this year.

Separately, the Association of Professional Tour Caddies, which was not involved in the lawsuit but represents the caddies to the Tour, began negotiating with the circuit last year.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the APTC.

In January 2017, Jay Monahan took over as commissioner of the Tour and began working with the APTC to find a solution to the healthcare issue. Sajtinac said the Tour has agreed to increase the stipend it gives caddies for healthcare beginning next year.

“It took a year and a half, but it turned out to be a good result,” Sajtinac said. “Our goal is to close that window for the guys because healthcare is such a massive chunk of our income.”

The Tour did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the agreement or the end to the lawsuit.

Caddies have received a stipend from the Tour for healthcare for some time, and although Sajtinac wouldn’t give the exact increase, he said it was over 300 percent. Along with the APTC’s ability to now negotiate healthcare plans as a group, the new stipend should dramatically reduce healthcare costs for caddies.

“It’s been really good,” said Sajtinac, who did add that there are currently no talks with the Tour to created a retirement program for caddies. “Everybody is really excited about this.”

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PGA Tour Latinoamérica moving season finale to Doral

By Nick MentaOctober 18, 2018, 2:36 pm

PGA Tour Latinoamérica announced Wednesday that it will play its season finale, the Latinoamérica Tour Championship-Shell Championship, at Trump National Doral from Nov. 29-Dec. 2.

The limited-field event will feature the top 60 players on the circuit's money list competing on Doral's Golden Palm Course.

“We are very happy that we will continue playing the Latinoamérica Tour Championship-Shell Championship in South Florida, and Doral is a tremendous community that we know will open its arms to our players and this tournament,” PGA Tour Latinoamérica president Jack Warfield said in a statement.

The PGA Tour ended its more than 50-year relationship with Doral and the resort's Blue Monster course back in 2016, when Cadillac's title sponsorship of the World Golf Championship lapsed as then-candidate Donald Trump was mounting his bid for the presidency.

“We continue to stand by our earlier statement, and the statement of other golf organizations, that Mr. Trump's comments are inconsistent with our strong commitment to an inclusive and welcoming environment in the game of golf,” then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in December 2015, referring to Trump's campaign rhetoric concerning Mexicans and Muslims.

The event was moved to Mexico City in 2017 and renamed the WGC-Mexico Championship.

The Latinoamérica Tour Championship was staged the last two years at Melreese Country Club in Miami, where David Beckham is currently attempting to build a stadium for his Major League Soccer expansion club, Inter Miami.

PGA Tour Latinoamérica's release states that the move to Doral "keeps the event in this part of the Sunshine State and allows the tournament to maintain its ties to The First Tee of Miami as a charitable recipient and sponsor." Melreese, the city's only public golf course, is home to the First Tee of Miami, which naturally opposes Beckham's efforts to close the facility and repurpose the land.

A November referendum will ask voters to decide if the city should negotiate a no-bid lease with Beckham's ownership group, which seeks to create a $1 billion dollar complex comprising of the proposed stadium, youth soccer fields, a park, commercial and retail space, and a hotel.

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Im wins Web.com Player and Rookie of the Year awards

By Nick MentaOctober 18, 2018, 1:22 pm

Sungjae Im on Thursday was named the Web.com Tour's 2018 Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year.

Im won twice on the Web.com this year, taking the season opener in January, The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, and the season finale in August, the WinCo Foods Portland Open, to become the first player in history lead the circuit's money list wire-to-wire.

Im is the first Korean-born player to win the Web's POY award and, at 20 years old, its youngest recipient.

In a player vote, Im bested Anders Albertson, Sam Burns, Kramer Hickok and Martin Trainer, 2018's only other two-time winner, for POY honors, and Burns, Hickock, Trainer and Cameron Champ for ROY honors.

“My first year on the Web.com Tour was an incredibly happy time for me,” Im said, “and it’s pretty surreal that I was able to win the first and last tournament of the season. I honestly thought I would spend about two to three years on the Web.com Tour before making it to the PGA Tour, so I’m happy to have achieved my goal so soon. I’m grateful to have earned the Player of the Year honors and I hope to finish the remainder of the PGA Tour season on a good note.”

In his first PGA Tour start, Im tied for fourth at the Safeway Open, earning $241,280, a little less than half of the $534,326 he amassed in 25 starts as the Web's regular-season money winner.

Playing this week's CJ Cup in his native South Korea, Im opened with a 1-over 73 Thursday.

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Former DJ advisor found guilty in embezzlement case

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 18, 2018, 12:38 pm

A federal jury has found Nathan Hardwick, a former advisor to Dustin Johnson, guilty of embezzling $26 million in funds from his now-bankrupt real estate closing firm, Morris Hardwick Schneider.

Per Golf.com, citing Law.com, a 12-person jury convicted Hardwick of "one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 21 counts of wire fraud and one count of making false statements to federally insured banks."

As for where exactly the money went, The Sun News of Myrtle Beach, once again citing Law.com, has the details:

"The alleged spending included $18.47 million on gambling, private jet travel and women from 2011 through August 2014. The prosecution submitted two binders of documentation as evidence that Hardwick spent $4.39 million on “female social companions,” including one testifying witness who claimed to have met him through SugarDaddy.com."

"Other alleged expenditures described in testimony include more than $7 million at casinos, more than $3 million with a bookie, $680,000 for a luxury condo at The St. Regis Atlanta, $273,000 on a diamond ring, $186,000 on a deposit for a party on a private island, and $635,000 on a trip to the 2014 British Open for golfing buddies that included a customized jet and round at St. Andrews."

Johnson in 2014 sued Morris Hardwick Schneider over a $3 million loan he believed to be an investment. Instead, Johnson argued, the money was going to make up for shortages created by Hardwick's embezzlement. Johnson later amended his suit to argue that Hardwick, who previously served on the board of the Dustin Johnson Foundation, was being used as a "pawn" by the firm's other partners. 

That suit was settled in 2016 for $2 million.