It was only a matter of time before St. Rory let the golf demons get to him.
Rory McIlroy – the amiable, accommodating darling of the golf media – cut loose on Twitter yesterday, responding to criticism of he and his caddie’s course management in the opening round of the Irish Open, where McIlroy double-bogeyed the last hole and shot 1-under 70 at Killarney.
Commenting during the live telecast on Irish radio RTE, Jay Townsend – an American who works BBC Radio 5 Live and Golf Channel coverage of the European Tour – characterized several of McIlroy’s on-course decisions as “silly.” Then he tweeted criticism of caddie J.P. Fitzgerald for advising McIlroy on “some of the worst course management I have ever seen beyond under 10’s boys golf competition.”
Informed of Townsend’s comments, McIlroy immediately came to his looper’s defense. “Shut up. You’re a commentator and a failed golfer, your opinion means nothing,” he tweeted.
The U.S. Open champ is only 21. His personality is genuine and his candor is endearing. But calling Townsend a “failed golfer” not only is unfair, but it’s also inaccurate – at least by my definition of “failed.” You’re a failure only if you’ve never tried.
McIlroy is basking in wild success and immense popularity. Perhaps he’s simply too young to grasp the significance of his achievements in the context of the tens of thousands of unfulfilled pro golf wannabes around the globe.
Jay Townsend isn’t one of them.
Townsend, 49, the son of a club pro in Michigan, was an Honorable Mention All-American his senior year (1984) at the University of Florida. Portending his future as a journeyman ex-pat, Townsend’s only significant victory as an amateur came when he teamed with Pat Stevens to win the 1983 Simon Bolivar Cup in Venezuela.
Unlike so many of his American counterparts, Townsend chose to leave the comforts of his home shores and compete professionally in South Africa and Europe – becoming one of a handful of players from the U.S. to earn fully exempt status on the European Tour in the last 15 years. He was 2-for-2 at Euro Q-School, earning his card in 1984 and 1990.
True, Townsend never won on the European Tour. His only victory as a pro came in 1989 at the Trustbank Tournament of Champions on the South African Sunshine Tour. His notched 13 top 10s in 10 seasons in Europe (1985-86, 1991-98), and his best finish was second place in the 1994 Catalan Open (Spain).
Townsend’s highest rank on the Euro Tour money list was 43rd in 1995, when he scored five top 10s and won £129,720. He ended that year at No. 190 in the Official World Golf Ranking (then Sony Ranking) – incidentally, seven spots ahead of Brandel Chamblee, who years later would become Townsend’s higher-profile colleague at Golf Channel. (The top three players in the world that year were Greg Norman, Nick Price and Ernie Els.)
Townsend never played in the Masters, U.S. Open or PGA Championship. He tried to qualify for the British Open five times before making the grade in 1996, although he missed the 36-hole cut by seven shots at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Point is, Townsend deserves credit for his perseverance, and for having the moxie to take the road less traveled.
Failed golfer? C’mon, the guy survived 10 years of globe trotting without the benefit of a doting agent, an entourage, private jets, courtesy cars, or a personal chef. That’s a feat in itself, and an alien concept to newly minted elite golfers such as McIlroy (who’s more grounded than most).
Moreover, as Chamblee has proven, former players needn’t possess a superstar’s resume´ to provide insightful commentary. Townsend offers an authentic perspective with regard to what it’s like competing on the European Tour. For my money, he’s the most underrated voice in the business. He knows the game and the players; he’s witty; he’s beholden to no one; and he’s unafraid to speak his mind.
Best of all, Townsend sticks to his guns. In their Twitter exchange, he told McIlroy he stood by his comments. No skinbacks or apologies, even to St. Rory.