06/20/2016

The first thing you see is the hair.

Rory McIlroy grew up before our eyes, which is to say we hardly noticed him grow up at all. But there he is, having just turned 22 and won the US Open by a billion strokes, sitting down with David Feherty in 2011. McIlroy’s curly mop atop his head nearly falls over his eyes. His cheeks are pudgier, his voice a pitch higher. This was still “rising phenom” Rory McIlroy and not yet the globe trotter we know today.

Five years on and McIlroy returned to “Feherty” for a second installment of the hit show. The host made his way to Ireland to follow McIlroy’s run at the Irish Open. As fate would have it, Rory won that tournament in stunning fashion—two massive three-woods on the 16th and 18th holes gave him his homeland’s national title.

Because of the circumstances (and maybe a few celebratory Guinness?), Feherty treats us to an introspective McIlroy. He talks about how much the Irish Open title means to him, how he’s come to better understand the quotes that once got him in trouble.

On the Ryder Cup? “I was wrong.” On being more British than Irish? “It was taken out of context…I grew up in a British school system and with the Pound.” In fact, McIlroy will represent Ireland at the upcoming Summer Olympics. It’s not that Rory reneged on Great Britain, it’s that at 27 he has a better sense of self than he did when he was in his early 20’s. And who doesn’t?

This is what makes the episode so worthwhile. At each step, we juxtapose the Rory with four Major Championships against the one who was still working on consistency. The curly hair is gone in favor of a neat, close crop. The almost cherubic face is taut. McIlroy has sculpted his 5-9, slender build into an athletic frame.

And he’s even molded his mind. Of the 2014 PGA Championship, perhaps McIlroy’s crowning achievement, he says he was annoyed to start the back nine. He watched as Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson chummed it up in the group ahead of him.

“I would never do it,” McIlroy says. “I had this thing in my head…I’m going to catch you and beat you.”

He did just that (Side note: Is that also why he skipped Spring Break 2016 as well?). McIlroy called the come-from-behind win a sign of his new-found mental strength. He calls Tiger Woods a grinder, something we don’t always appreciate.

“There’s times when I’ve lacked that [concentration, determination],” Rory admits. He displayed it at Valhalla two years ago as well as in Dublin this spring.

The result is that McIlroy out of the so-called “Big Three,” including Jason Day and Jordan Spieth (both of whom appeared on “Feherty” this season), looks the most likely to make it a big one.

That’s what Feherty wants to get across. The McIlroy he sat down with in 2011 morphed into the one that returned in 2016. He, as a golfer, has nearly reached the goals he laid out for himself as a young man. Now he has new ones.

“(I want) to become the best European player ever,” McIlroy says.

He’s well on pace.

But if there’s something missing from the one-hour run time, it’s a further dive into the off-course controversies that have also defined McIlroy’s last five years. Feherty fails to mention the engagement to Caroline Wozniacki and subsequent unceremonious breakup. There’s no discussion of McIlroy’s strained relationship with Graeme McDowell, stemming from a 2014 lawsuit that pitted the two countrymen against each other. Chubby Chandler, who is both a friend of Feherty and another key player in said lawsuit, somehow goes unmentioned.

 

“(I want) to become the best European player ever,”

– Rory McIlroy

 

Is that a glaring hole? If the goal is to show us McIlroy in full, then yes. And yet, Feherty is not a journalist. Without a clear definition of what exactly journalism is in 21st century media, we tend to assign the title to anyone who has a platform.

But Feherty is a friend to all. Much of his appeal stems from his ability to relate to his guests on a personal level. As soon as he grills McIlroy, he sacrifices the charm of his show. It’s no longer a conversation.

That could be the next step for Feherty if he wishes to take it. For as much success as he’s had over this show, he tends to reflect positively on all his guests, even those deemed controversial in and out of golf—Ian Poulter, Bubba Watson and yes, Donald Trump.

But that’s asking Feherty to be someone he’s not. And the guy, the host, we have is pretty great already.