The world of golf woke up Monday morning with a Rory hangover.
This just two days after the sport’s newest hero, Rory McIlroy, already dubbed “the next Tiger” by some observers, hung his head at a Saturday news conference and said: “That’s a great compliment, but I need to win one.”
The record-setting performance by the young lad from Northern Ireland at the U.S. Open was so impressive he has others talking about a “changing of the guard.” During the tournament, NBC analyst and former champion golfer Johnny Miller proclaimed McIlroy’s putting stroke the best he’s ever seen.
Maybe he’s not all that quite yet, and those hyping his talent need to calm down. While it’s true his epic victory -- particularly following his stunning collapse at the Masters earlier this season -- is among the greatest in golf history, let's also recognize the reporting of this great accomplishment may well have gone into sports stats overdrive.
But it’s maybe enough -- just maybe -- to tell this story in a way that positions the sport that Mark Twain once called a "good walk spoiled" for a comeback. More than just a story of personal inspiration, the McIlroy story breaks down more of the barriers that have been golf's biggest problem over the years. Everyone, not just golfers, can identify.
His father, Gerry, saw that young Rory had a gift. So he worked two jobs in County Down, Northern Ireland, first as a janitor at a sports club, and then as a bartender at night, so his son could play the Ireland junior golf circuit. Rory’s mother, who he called "Rosie" when interviewed, worked factory night shifts. Parents who have taken their kids to piano lessons, dance practice, art school, club sports or any other activity in order to help better themselves can identify.
McIlroy’s family may even have played a big role in his Open win. In the days before his victory, golf analysts had a field day discussing the reasons behind McIlroy’s Masters collapse. He was asked many times about the changes he may have made to his game, or the lessons he had learned.
One big difference between the Masters and U.S. Open efforts? Daddy was at the Open. Father and son had breakfast every morning last week, where Gerry assured Rory everything was going to be OK. Every non-golf parent can identify with that -- and maybe if we stopped over analyzing the ins and outs of golf and looked at the "Daddy Difference" -- we'd find the key to success.
There was Haiti, too. McIlroy did some soul-searching after the Masters. He visited and spoke with the high priest of golf, Jack Nicklaus. But he also got on a plane as a representative of UNICEF and toured a school and medical clinic in Haiti.
"The everyday things that we take for granted at home in Ireland are so longed for in Haiti," he said after his two-day trip.
What 22-year-old can process like that? A real human being who -- given the opportunity -- can draw others into what has been an otherwise exclusive club.
There was another development before the Open involving four young golfers that had nothing to do with how they perform on the links. Ben Crane, Bubba Watson, Ricky Fowler and Hunter Mahan formed their own version of a boy band and, using sponsor money, produced a "Golf Boys" video. Granted, the video shows the Jonas Brothers have nothing to worry about.
But rather than perpetuate golf’s stuffy country club image, Crane, Watson, Fowler and Mahan make fun of themselves. And while money is made from downloads, sponsors and charities are getting the profits.
The sport faces other challenges, of course. It's true the economy has put the game in a bunker that's made of quicksand. Golf courses are closing.
But in a day and age when we all have to watch how and what we spend, the Gods of Golf would be well served to take the stories of Rory, Ben, Bubba, Ricky, and Hunter beyond stats. These are young men and (on the LPGA side) women who are in fact changing the guard -- and the face of the sport.
Don Fair is Coordinating Producer at the Fox News Channel Los Angeles Bureau. Now that the daughters have left the nest -- and volleyball practice -- he can be found at the Calabasas Country Club, trying every golf training gadget sold on TV.