Did he or didn’t he?
If you believe what Rory McIlroy said Wednesday, he didn’t know that 77-year-old hall of famer Gary Player recommended that he needed to “find the right wife.”
McIlroy did his best to sell his ignorance Wednesday during a news conference before Thursday’s start of the $8.75 million World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. His face showed what looked to be genuine surprise. His initial response was “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
When it was suggested — with a tinge of incredulity — that he hadn’t heard Player’s comments, McIlroy said, “No. What did he say?”
McIlroy’s response seemed convincing. Yet McIlroy is so plugged in to social media, atwitter with Player’s remarks Tuesday, it seems hard to believe he would miss it. He did say he’d just come back to the U.S. after returning home to Northern Ireland, where he golfed with his buddies.
Even if that’s the case, presumably McIlroy also has a publicist to alert him to such matters, although he could be in the midst of an agent switch, according to a story last month in the Telegraph.
Except for taking the fifth, McIlroy handled the comments perfectly. He said he has “the utmost respect for Gary Player.”
“He is an incredible man,” McIlroy said of Player. “Obviously the success he’s had on the golf course, but just the way he’s lived his life and how healthy he is. Obviously he’s an inspiration for everyone. I don’t know what he said.
“This is the first time I’ve heard it. All I know is that I’ve got a lot of respect for the man and he’s someone I definitely look up to.”
Recently on My Sporting Life, a radio talk show in the United Kingdom, Player questioned McIlroy’s commitment to the game and whether his relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki was affecting his practice time.
After winning the U.S. Open in 2011 and the PGA Championship in 2012, McIlroy still seeks his first victory of the year. He’s earned “only” $1.39 million on the PGA Tour, with four top 10s in 11 events, including a second at the Valero Texas Open. He’s still third in the world rankings.
But, in Player’s view, McIlroy is squandering his incredible talent by taking too much time off, presumably to follow Wozniacki.
“When you’re in love as a young man naturally golf seems to take second place for a while,” Player said on The Sporting Life. “Love is still the greatest thing that ever happens in our lives. But the thing is for a man like Rory with talent galore he’s got to make sure he has a woman like I’ve got, who has been married [to me] for 56 years, that has only encouraged me to do well and made sacrifices.
“He’s got to be intelligent and find the right wife. If he finds the right wife, if he practices and if he’s dedicated, he could be the man.”
I’m more offended by Player’s comments than by McIlroy’s denial that he heard them. The implication that “the right wife” is one who gives up her dreams to follow her husband around the world might be a belief shared by many in Player’s generation. I could hear my father, born 15 years before Player, saying something like that.
Jack Nicklaus can hear his good friend Player saying it, too. Honored Wednesday night as the tournament’s Ambassador of Golf, Nicklaus said he isn’t worried about McIlroy, 24.
“I said the same thing about Tiger, that he would be better after he got married,” Nicklaus said of Woods. “I said it was hard to come back and say, ‘Hey, Butch [Harmon], I won another one’ [and Harmon says] ‘Nice going, Tiger.’ It’s having someone to share it with. Gary was thinking about support and sharing. I don’t think Gary was suggesting he get married. That will happen to him. He’s got plenty of time. He’s a really good kid.”
Player’s view might be old-fashioned. Perhaps single men didn’t succeed on tour during Nicklaus’ and Player’s days. But Barbara Nicklaus understands the lonely life on the PGA Tour and how much Jack needed her.
Barbara Nicklaus said she learned that from Elita Mangrum, wife of hall of famer Lloyd Mangrum, when she was sitting on the porch at Augusta National Golf Club lamenting that she missed her new baby Jackie.
“She looks at me [and points] her finger and said, ‘You listen little girl. You had Jack long before you had that baby and you hope to have Jack long after that baby’s gone. You grow up and be a wife,’ ” Barbara Nicklaus recalled Wednesday.
“I’m 21 years old and I was kind of taken aback. Every time Jack would call on a Thursday night and say ‘I’m lonely,’ I could see this finger in my face and I’d say, ‘I’ll be there.’ ”
When she saw Elita Mangrum again 10 years later, Barbara said she told her, “ ‘Elita, you’ll never know what you did for my marriage.’ A lot of the kids have a child and they think their tour days are over. That was probably my best lesson, to be there.”
Maybe McIlroy is trying to be there for Wozniacki. Maybe his work ethic does need work. Maybe he would rather have some fun before being the man. Maybe he’s seen what Woods goes through and isn’t sure he wants to be the man.
But if he does, McIlroy has the tools and the time to do it, even without the “right wife.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.