Why golf needs McIlroy and Spieth

By Scott Michaux
Published on
Why golf needs McIlroy and Spieth

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The picture said it all.

In the tweet heard round the golf world Monday, there was the world's No. 1 golfer leaning on crutches with his left ankle encased in some Star Wars storm trooper boot. The words accompanying the photo were even less encouraging.

"Total rupture of left ATFL (ankle ligament) and associated joint capsule damage in a soccer kickabout with friends on Saturday."

What stands out from all this miserable information, however, is the look on Rory McIlroy's face -- eyebrows arched, lips pursed and a vacant stare in his wide eyes that scream out, "Yeah, I just screwed up the whole summer."

Not just McIlroy's summer, as rehabbing an injury on his pivot foot could cost him title defenses at both the British Open and PGA Championship.

It screwed up golf's summer.

INJURY REPORT(S): Rory joins a growing list of pros injured off the course

With Jordan Spieth poised to chase history and the modern Grand Slam, it was McIlroy who stood as his most compelling obstacle. It was the rivalry between the two No. 1 and 2 guys currently holding all of golf's major hardware that we all hoped to see get launched at St. Andrews next week and perhaps Whistling Straits a month later.

"Shocked and saddened to hear the Rory McIlroy news -- could have been a magic match up with Jordan Spieth," six-time major winner Nick Faldo posted on Twitter.

"That's a big blow if he misses (The Open)," former Ryder Cup captain Sam Torrance told reporters at Wimbledon when he heard the news.

McIlroy was the odds-on favorite heading to the Old Course, where he shot 63 in the opening round in 2010 and finished third despite a wind-blown 80 in the second round. There was heavy sentiment that McIlroy was the player to beat on the venue he calls "my favorite golf course in the world."

Spieth now assumes the favorite role on all the odds charts.

McIlroy -- who withdrew from this week's Scottish Open -- hasn't ruled the British Open out, with his manager telling CNN there is a "10 percent" chance he'll still be able to play after reviewing more exams when the swelling goes down. But let's not kid ourselves that he can make like Tiger Woods on a torn knee and stress fractures at the 2008 U.S. Open. Not when we're talking about a load-bearing ankle.

It's much more likely that the long-term affects of McIlroy's injury will be greater than any short-term hopes.

So naturally when everyone is upset that a great story is ruined, people start attacking the source. McIlroy's sense and judgment have been questioned for putting himself at risk by playing soccer with friends in the middle of the most important stretch of the season. Apparently, he should have sat at home in bubble wrap and only dared walk gingerly to the practice range.

It is the second time McIlroy has hurt his ankle playing soccer, the last time just before Christmas in 2013 that put him down for a week. Asked then if he might consider banning himself from playing football, McIlroy said, "Yeah, sort of. Probably not a good idea to play anymore."

This incident, however, seemed innocuous enough when it happened. It's not like McIlroy maimed himself by tangling aggressively in his "kickabout." Reports say he just "went over, unchallenged" on artificial turf. In short, he rolled his ankle which he could have done working out on a treadmill.

You can't stop living your life just because you're great at something else. McIlroy wasn't base-jumping off mountains or wrestling alligators. He was kicking a ball around with friends.

He's far from the first golfer to injure himself recreating away from the golf course.

A young Phil Mickelson missed the 1994 Masters when he fractured his left leg and right ankle in a collision with a tree while skiing in Arizona. Ernie Els missed 21 weeks (including the PGA) in 2005 after rupturing ligaments in his left knee being pulled by a speedboat around the Mediterranean Sea aboard an inflatable tube.

The list of freak accidents and golfers is long. Paul Casey saw his place among the game's elite tumble after dislocating his shoulder snowboarding. Former Augusta State star Oliver Wilson broke his wrist in a fall during a snowball fight. Darren Clarke missed the 2012 Masters with a hamstring injury incurred while playing tennis in the Bahamas with his sons. Lucas Glover missed the first two months of 2012 after spraining his knee paddle boarding in the Pacific Ocean before the season-opener at Kapalua.

Thomas Levet once broke his leg leaping into a lake beside the 18th green after winning the 2011 French Open.

Stuff happens. That's life and neither Rory nor anyone else should stop living it in constant fear that you're going to get hurt.

But it's a big summer bummer that this happened just as golf is on the cusp of an exciting new era of young superstars doing amazing things.

"Working hard to get back as soon as I can," McIlroy wrote in his tweet.

Get well soon, but not so soon that it might inflict more damage. Because golf needs McIlroy at his best.