Rory McIlroy enters new era, but he might not want to talk about it

Fresh off breakup news, a European adventure, and sporting a scruff popular with nearly every golfer except Rory McIlroy, the Northern Irishman met with the media ahead of the RBC Canadian Open.

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HAMILTON — Reluctant superstar isn’t a term that’s been used much, if ever, to describe Rory McIlroy.

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It would still be an exaggeration, but we have definitely entered a new, slightly more guarded era of the Rory show, although his affinity toward Canada had the golfer in a relaxed mood at Hamilton Golf and Country Club on Wednesday.

McIlroy is a two-time RBC Canadian Open champion, with his first coming in Hamilton in 2019.

“It’s sort of good to be back at the place where I guess this love affair with Canada started,” he said.

Fresh off breakup news, a European adventure, and sporting a scruffy face previously popular with nearly every golfer except Rory McIlroy, the Northern Irishman met with the media ahead of the RBC Canadian Open.

“I certainly switched off,” he said of his short post-PGA Championship break from golf. “I went to one of my best friend’s weddings in Italy for four days, which was a lot of fun, good to see a lot of people from home I haven’t seen in a long time. Yeah, it was actually a really good trip. I needed it.”

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It’s understandable McIlroy would feel the need to get away.

Earlier this month at Valhalla, news of McIlroy’s split from wife Erica Stoll was, sadly, the biggest story of the PGA Championship. At least until Louisville’s finest put world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler in the clink for allegedly causing an officer to tear his $80 trousers. Scheffler’s off-the-course troubles are now behind him after charges were dropped on Wednesday.

McIlroy has been trying with varying results to get his own focus back on the golf course for most of the year. After spending plenty of time, energy, and maybe even some of his sanity vehemently defending the PGA Tour in its fight against LIV Golf, McIlroy decided to check-out of golf’s rather uncivil war.

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‘I WISH I HADN’T HAVE GOTTEN INVOLVED’

“I wish I hadn’t have gotten involved or not hadn’t have gotten involved, hadn’t have gotten as deeply involved in it,” McIlroy said on Wednesday. “My whole thing is I’m just disappointed to what it’s done to, not to the game of golf, the game of golf will be fine, but men’s professional golf and this sort of divide we have.”

McIlroy’s softening on the issue seems to roughly coincide with Jon Rahm’s departure for LIV last December.

“I hold no grudge, I hold no resentment over the guys that chose to go and play on LIV,” he reiterated on Wednesday. “Everyone’s got their own decisions to make and everyone has the right to make those decisions.”

It was shortly before Rahm’s move that McIlroy stepped down as a player director on the PGA Tour’s influential policy board, the most obvious sign of an inward retreat for the once very public superstar. He later expressed interest in regaining his seat, before saying there were players on the board “maybe uncomfortable with me coming back on for some reason.”

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When the year’s first major championship came around with the Masters, the golf world got another example as McIlroy — known for giving the most open, thoughtful, and in-depth interviews in the sport — seemed to be rushed off stage after a brief round of questions that lasted less than 10 minutes. His news conference at the PGA Championship following news of his breakup understandably was short and slightly awkward.

Under fewer lights and smaller crowds here in Hamilton, McIlroy was less rushed and seemed at ease.

“First and foremost, I love playing here. I love playing in Canada. I love playing in front of the fans,” McIlroy said. “I also think to support RBC and what they have done for the PGA Tour and the game of golf, I think that’s a real important part of it as well. RBC is a title sponsor to two events, one signature event, one national open.”

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But Wednesday in Canada seemed the exception, not the norm this season. At a time when the golf world is desperate for a unifying voice, Rory is still the face of the PGA Tour as well as an outspoken proponent of a more global game. After laying down his arms in the fight, and with close ties to some of LIV’s European stars, McIlroy is well-suited to straddle the lines of both camps in golf’s war. Yet the game’s biggest active star appears largely sidelined, somewhat by choice and somewhat by circumstance.

And at the RBC Canadian Open, for good or ill, he seemed okay with that.

“Hopefully, we’re on a path to sorting that out and getting that to come back together,” McIlroy said. “But, yeah, I mean, in hindsight — hindsight’s always 20/20 — I wish I hadn’t have gotten as deeply involved as I have.”

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