Larry Canning: Rory and Ariya are everything I love about golf

Larry CanningBy Larry Canning.

Isn’t the world a slightly better place for sports fans when Rory McIlroy is winning golf tournaments?

He alone is worth the price of Foxtel.  

That swing is a perfect example of power, grace and near perfect mechanics akin to a Mark Waugh on-drive or a Pete Sampras first serve. When he is on song, there are very few humans on planet Earth who can beat him. To win a major you have to beat the very best but to win by 8 shots on two separate occasions is a completely different level.

Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott during the final round of the 2013 Australian Open
Rory McIlroy on his way to ruining Adam Scott’s post Masters victory march during the final round of the 2013 Australian Open at Royal Sydney

I’m also prepared to expose my naivety right here and say, as a bloke I reckon Rory McIlroy is a bloody ripper! He might throw the odd 3 iron onto the nearest lake but I’ve never heard him mumble some bigoted slur, question an official or say the wrong thing during an interview and imagine how many baited questions he’s had to deal with since, 2007. Yes readers; I did say 2007!

That’s when the kid with the uncut hedge of black curly hair which appeared to be trying to escape the confines of his Titleist Cap finished third in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at a course called Saint Andrews. It was his third event as a pro and his 3rd placing had already secured an elusive exemption on the European Tour for the next year. In doing so he became the youngest affiliate member to secure a tour card on the prestigious European PGA Tour. The little leprechaun then put an exclamation mark on his sprint to greatness with a 4th place in his very next tournament in Spain!

We all know what ensued over the next few years with victories in Europe, America, Middle East and just about every continent on Earth including 4 Major titles. That put him in the most elite of clubs “The winning 4 majors by the age of 25 Club”. Waiting at the bar of that particular clubhouse to discuss how they did it were the other two members, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

Sure there was a time when Rory was off and running with Tigers record in his sights, while Woods was in a Sex Addiction Clinic after attempting to chase down Hugh Hefner’s record. Some knockers were suggesting winning a major without Tiger at his best was a somewhat shallow victory but that didn’t last for long. Earl Woods son was back on the bike before you could say – “Crap! Where’s my phone?”

Before winning at Quail Hollow in May, it seemed an eternity since Rory had kissed a trophy in the States. It was a mere 18 months which not coincidentally coincided with a one in Hundred year pandemic! That just proves how good the kid is.

Ariya Jutanugarn

I found it ironic the same day Rory was thanking Wells Fargo for another 2 million dollar cheque, Ariya Jutanugarn was breaking a similar winless draught by claiming her 11th LPGA title in Thailand.

Both these players are former world number ones, both former teenage sensations and both maybe the two most free flowing – naturally gifted golfers I’ve ever seen. Let’s also throw in the fact they are two extremely popular players with both their fans and their peers.

I first saw how loved Rory was when he did the unthinkable by defeating my boyfrie… sorry, my good friend Adam Scott at the 2013 Australian Open at Royal Sydney. Scotty had returned home literally wearing the Green Jacket and proceeded to win the Aussie PGA and Masters before shooting 62 in the first round in the Australian Open. You couldn’t back the bloke when he took a 4 stroke lead over Rory into Sunday. He still had a 1 stroke advantage playing the 72nd but a bogey from our man and a birdie for the Irishman, Adam was cruelly denied victory. Despite stealing the cup from the Aussie hero and denying our Adam, the Aussie crowd cheered and roared for McIlroy like he was one of ours!

The same could be said for Ariya Jutanugarn when she blew a 7 shot lead in the US Women’s open in 2018. The American fans can be pretty brutal but when the Thai hung in there for a gutsy play-off victory, it was clear the locals loved how she had handled herself with class throughout and cheered and clapped after every word of her winning speech.

No airs and graces, no entitled bullshit, no self-indulged interviews, these two superstars are everything I love about the game. Throw in a couple more recently revitalized superstar players/humans in Jordan Spieth and Lydia Ko and our game is in bloody good shape!     

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