Agony aunt was probably not the role envisaged by the Class of ’99 when they hauled their clubs out of the boot at Wentworth on Wednesday to contest the BMW PGA Championship pro-am with devout Manchester United fan Rory McIlroy.
Little in the life of McIlroy is straightforward. Days after sending out the wedding invitations McIlroy was telling the world it was over with his betrothed, Caroline Wozniacki. Listeners to the BBC Radio 4 drama The Archers will know of the emotional devastation wrought when love comes tumbling down with the altar in sight.
Like Tom Archer, it was McIlroy torching the nuptials. It is not clear how much of his turmoil was known to his playing partners. Phil Neville has enough on his plate contemplating an uncertain future as coach following the appointment of Louis van Gaal as United manager. The shoulders of Peter Schmeichel and Teddy Sheringham are broad enough but perhaps not obvious resting places for tortured souls.
McIlroy was evidently struggling when he was paraded on the first tee for the afternoon shotgun start. From one ordinarily fluent in the art of pre-tournament small talk, there were lots of strained smiles and shoulder shrugs as the cameras zoned in on the sons of United. It was a relief almost to put the ball down on the tee and get one airborne – and he cleared the bunker on the right, too.
McIlroy released a statement on Wednesday morning in which he said: “The problem is mine. The wedding invitations issued at the weekend made me realise that I wasn’t ready for all that marriage entails. I wish Caroline all the happiness she deserves and thank her for the great times we’ve had.”
Later, at an emotional press conference here, he added: “Obviously, it is a difficult time for Caroline and myself. It was mutual and amicable and we both thought it was the best for both of us. Time to move on. I just want to get my head into golf this week and concentrate on the tournament and try to do well.
“I’ve been playing well,” the Northern Irishman added. “The form’s been good. I just want to dive straight into it and keep myself somewhat busy and just try and have a good week on the course.
“I’m not going to lie. It’s going to be very difficult. But you know, at least when I get inside the ropes, [I can] just try and concentrate on the shot at hand. I think I’m no different than anyone else. Everyone has been through break-ups and it’s obviously very, very difficult. But look, I’m here to try and concentrate on this week and answer questions about golf.”
Typically, there was no attempt to manage the timing of an announcement which shifts the agenda from the back pages to the front. If McIlroy were more calculating he might have delayed the news until next week and spared himself the scrutiny that comes with the biggest golf tournament in Britain outside the Open Championship. But that is not his way. McIlroy is consumed by the issue and felt that it was pointless to fight the impulse to declare his hand.
Luke Donald is another player with domestic matters on his mind. His third child is due next month and there was much sympathy for the plight of his friend and Ryder Cup team-mate. “We all know how hard this game is when you have a clear mind,” said Donald. “I can’t imagine what’s going through his mind now.
“I’m as surprised and shocked as I’m sure you guys are,” he added. “Any time you have personal issues clouding your mind and you’re trying to play golf, it becomes very difficult. Sometimes being on the golf course can be a little bit of a break away from that, but most of the time it’s very hard to separate those two things. Obviously, I wish them both the best.”
There must be something in the Virginia Water. McIlroy has missed the cut here three times in six appearances, including last year at the height of his on-course difficulties.
At least there was no award ceremony to attend to extend his agony as there was 12 months ago, when he was presented with the 2012 European Tour Player of the Year pot immediately after missing the cut.
And so the jilted fiancée is added to the list of incendiary twists that have attended McIlroy’s short career. He appears to be on a volcanic trajectory that forbids an easy life and presently features litigation in Dublin with a management company over the terms of another kind of split that he initiated.
Add to that walking off the course mid-round during a slump in form that was triggered by his £75m switch to Nike, two overwhelming major victories and one epic collapse at the Masters. All this and he is barely more than two weeks into his 26th year. Ye gods.