AUGUSTA, Ga. — In March, the Muirfield Golf Club in Scotland voted to allow females to become members.
Rory McIlroy was unimpressed. He forcibly decried that it took so long for the self-described “Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers” to make that decision. He deemed the previous male-only policy to be “horrendous.” He added that if the new membership rules allowed for the British Open to be played there, he would certainly compete but on non-friendly terms.
“I won’t be having many cups of tea with the members afterwards,” McIlroy said.
On Tuesday, here at Augusta National ahead of this week’s Masters Tournament, McIlroy was asked by USA Today columnist Christine Brennan why he came out so strong about Muirfield yet agreed to play a recent round of golf with President Donald Trump.
Here is the exchange edited for clarity:
“You admirably criticized Muirfield when it took them so long to have women members,” Brennan said. “You called it obscene and you said you really wouldn’t want to have a cup of tea with them. Famously you played a round of golf with Donald Trump, and among other things, he bragged about sexually assaulting women, mocked a disabled person and had a weeklong battle with the Gold Star family. What’s the difference?”
“I think Muirfield Golf Club … and the office of the President of the United States are two completely different things,” McIlroy responded. “I’ve spent time in President Trump’s company before, and that does not mean that I agree with everything that he says. Actually, the opposite …
“But whenever an invitation or a request comes that way, I don’t want to say I jump at the chance but at the same time, you know, to see the Secret Service, to see the scene, I mean, that’s really what I was going for. I mean, there was not one bit of politics discussed in that round of golf. He was more interested in talking about the grass that he just put on the greens [of the Trump-owned course].
“But, yeah, look, it’s a difficult one. I felt I would have been making more of a statement if I had turned it down. It’s not a tough place to be put in, but it was a round of golf and nothing more.
“Would I do it again? After the sort of backlash I received, I’d think twice about it.”
Outside of the loaded “admirably” part at the beginning, Brennan’s question was a fair one, an interesting one and a compelling one. As a journalist she has always been all of that. She’s a columnist entitled to her opinion and her phrasing of questions.
She took an issue that was already out there – criticism of McIlroy for playing golf with Trump – and let McIlroy, who is more than capable of handling challenging issues, explain or at least add perspective to his decisions.
The issue is this: Why is this an issue for some people?
Rory McIlroy is a golfer by trade. The job comes with no expectations of consistency of political belief (if this even qualifies as that). He is, it appears, inconsistent and complex and human and situationally political. This describes most of us.
Playing golf with someone does not constitute a full endorsement of … well, of anything. It’s just playing golf with someone – a round of golf and nothing more, as McIlroy put it.
Every single day on every single golf course in the world people play with someone they don’t agree with on every – or even any – issue. Most of the time, no one talks politics because this is supposed to be a fun respite. This may confuse the hyper-partisans, but many people just don’t care that much.
It’s the same thing as playing cards or attending a dinner party or playing a pick-up basketball game or everything else in life. It’s the entire point. You don’t – or shouldn’t – live in a vacuum. People, even famous golfers, can be completely inconsistent in their beliefs because … it’s their beliefs and they are just golfers.
Will some people care? Of course. What you say and what you do can win you and lose you friends – or in the case of a celebrity, fans. OK. That’s the risk, but that’s as much (if not more) the issue of the friend or fan.
As McIlroy pointed out, not playing golf with Trump would have, in itself, been a statement. It’s not like McIlroy was campaigning for Trump – or anyone else – and thus inviting questions about why he believes he should be supported.
The all-or-nothing, rigid-idealism stuff is the cable news-ification of the world. It is the worst of modern trends overtaking the best. Gotcha, you said this but now you say this? If some talking heads on TV want to shout at each other about politicians, so be it. Must it extend to everyone else?
Must everyone fit into some preconceived political box that is itself a dishonest construct designed to terrify people into donating to political parties and increase ratings for vapid talk shows?
Put it this way: McIlroy saw a golf club excluding women members as more disdainful than the words of the President of the United States.
Is it, though? The opposite can certainly be argued. How much power do some golfers on the coast of the North Sea really hold over the world? Shouldn’t a private institution be able to determine who can and can’t be members? They can include or exclude whomever they want – just as the British Open can include or exclude them from their tournament rotation.
Meanwhile, Trump, and Trump’s views and actions toward women, have significant consequence. His power is undeniable.
So maybe McIlroy was wrong on Muirfield but right on Trump. Or maybe he was wrong on Trump and right on Muirfield. Or maybe he was right about everything or wrong about everything.
Or maybe he was just being himself. Maybe he just decided to speak about one issue that he cared about (Muirfield’s membership) and then acted on another that he cared about (how cool it might be to play golf with a president). Maybe he didn’t really think or care how those decisions would be tallied up by the scorekeepers of the world.
No matter what you think of Trump’s politics or performance, it’s fairly undeniable that those who meet him find him charismatic and entertaining. Celebrities always flocked to be around him as much as he sought to be around them.
Hillary and Bill Clinton attended his most recent wedding, after all.
“I thought it would be fun,” Hillary explained.
Rory McIlroy thought it would be fun to play golf with the President of the United States. All over the world today, people will think it will be fun to play golf with all sorts of other people. They won’t conduct a political litmus test on the first tee.
That’s reserved for setting up the terms of the bet on the first tee. It’s just a round of golf and nothing more, after all.
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