Even those of us who’d would rather French-kiss Colin Montgomorie’s bulldog than spend four days glued to golf will keep a sneaky eye on this week’s British Open. Not because the polyester religion of the chubby and the clubby hasn’t become any less of an offence to taste and good sense, but because pathos can emerge from anywhere. And right now, it’s difficult not to feel for Rory McIlroy.
It was noticeable how the knee-jerk reaction from the knee-brained was to go all “Poo-Wowy” when this hugely-wealthy and successful sportsman with his private jet and fit girlfriend admitted to feeling “suffocated” by attention at the recent Irish Open; the whole ‘I’d-like-to-have-his-problems’ bit.
It’s a sentiment likely to have been echoed around the globe since there exists an insatiable hunger for all things golf – everywhere. And it doesn’t matter if you’re President or Prole; Rory McIlroy is pay-dirt – everywhere.
If the rich are different due to having more money, then the same applies with fame. Not the sort of narrow TV3 celebrity that might get you bumped up a queue at a restaurant, but the sort that McIlroy spends a lot of his fortune insulating himself from, the sort that makes even running away to live in a cave impossible since even every cave has CCTV and a blog these days.
Yeah, the money is nice, but at least some of the financial reward McIlroy enjoys must be in proportion to his inability to spend it without some kind of camera being pointed at him.
That’s a reality to melt the most mature of heads, never mind a 24-year-old’s. So, approaching the Open on the back of a lacklustre year that’s been parsed and analysed to CERNish levels, it is little wonder McIlroy might feel suffocated, especially in such a colon-gazing environment as golf.
Only in the clubhouse could a young man bending a piece of equipment in temper be turned into a protocol scandal that suggested McIlroy had bent it over Mandela’s brittle cranium.
There was also the walking-off-the-course “no mas” bit, which got the 19th hole even more indignant.
There's the constant tabloid focus on "Wozzilroy", the oldie-but-goldie "British-Irish" thing, and of course those $200 million Nike clubs that have impacted on his game like an ice-cold teaspoon.
What it is like to live under such a 24-hour glare is unfathomable to everyone bar a tiny few, especially when it is accompanied by an incessant flow of expert commentary, as contradictory as it is overpowering: ditch the new clubs, persevere with them; let your emotions out, rein them in; respect the game, be yourself; play more, play less; lose the girl, cling to her; come back to Ireland, stay in the US, move the left shoulder two millimetres to the right on the follow-through, leave the swing alone.
McIlroy is 24. Most 24-year-olds focus on getting a job, getting wasted and getting laid, a short “to-do” list most still manage to come up short on, little defeats that can be soothed in private.
McIlroy can't groan at a bad shot without a pundit proclaiming he doesn't want it enough, as if wanting "it" is all it takes: hell, if it was, everyone would live to 300 and have Mila Kunis for a FWB. The instinct for any 24-year-old under this kind of pressure must surely be to roar at everyone to pick on someone else for a while.
McIlroy, though, appears unwilling to take such a bluntly straight-forward tack, maybe because he’s too nice, which by all accounts he is, and maybe because he’s still young enough to worry about what people might think of him.
It is true if fame isn’t managed to some extent, it ends up managing, but modern sport is full of examples of over-management. Tiger Woods’ image regime remains rigidly bland, still playing the corporate game, droning platitudes to a public still affecting shock at a rich, powerful guy having taken advantage of easy sex.
But there is another way, a way the public actually appreciate much more. And that’s simply to shoot straight, and not just down the fairway.
History is littered with arrogant, foul-mouthed pillars of disrepute that are still cherished, precisely because they clearly didn’t give a toss what anyone thought of them.
Lester Piggott did time for tax-evasion, got stripped of his OBE, was as famously tight financially as he was amorously extravagant, never hesitated to go behind a colleague's back, ruthlessly looked after number one and treated the media with disdain. And everyone still thinks he was brilliant.
Starting out in this gig, one of the first jobs I had was to approach the retired-Piggott for a quote at a Mickey-Mouse jockeys match event at Tipperary racecourse. He saw me coming. Before I said anything, he said everything, in just two words, and in that famously nasal tone – "nuck off."
Even then, it was hard to be offended – “Lester Piggott told ME to eff off” – because it at least had the virtue of honesty. Now, it just looks like class.
So hint to Rory. Don’t pay too much attention to everyone. It doesn’t work. And it can impact on the thing that matters in the first place, your golf.
Because there’s no getting away from it; sometimes there’s no other option but a simple “nuck off”.