Rory McIlroy Should Not Play The British Open

July 6, 2015

I’m not a doctor and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn last night but I know this much: Rory McIlroy almost certainly isn’t going to be able to play in the British Open in ten days after rupturing ankle ligaments while playing soccer with his pals. And if he does play, it’s difficult to imagine him being much more than a sideshow in the tournament.

Let’s not stop there. Even though he’s the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world, McIlroy shouldn’t try to play in the Open at the Old Course in St. Andrews. If he’s able to rig some kind of boot or ankle brace that might allow him to hobble around the course for four days, it’s still not a good idea. He’ll be favoring his injured left ankle, he’ll end up compensating for it in other subtle ways and he may screw up his swing long-term. 

Talk to other golfers who have tried to play hurt, Rory. It’s just not worth it. Take a break, wait until your ankle is 100 percent healthy and then… wait a few more weeks. Missing the Open and possibly the PGA Championship is a fair tradeoff for possibly grooving your swing in a less-than-ideal position, a glitch that may take months to correct.

You may be wondering, like a lot of people, what McIlroy was doing playing soccer. Well, it’s called being a normal person and living a life. It happens. Former U.S. Open champion Steve Jones injured his hand while dirt-biking in the desert and was never the same. Len Mattiace lost a playoff to Mike Weir at the Masters, then blew out both knees in a snow skiing accident and was never the same. Phil Mickelson also got hurt skiing early in his career but he did, obviously, recover from it. Mike Reed once got hurt playing Ping-Pong in his garage. Brandt Jobe sliced off the tip of one finger while sweeping up his garage when the plastic broom handle broke apart into jagged pieces as he pushed it.

Life happens, injuries happen, you’ve just go to move on. Still, it was shocking when McIlroy posted a photo of himself on crutches wearing a cast-boot and described his accident. Rory wrote, “Total ruptre of left ankle ligament and associated joint capsule damage in a soccer kickabout with friends. Continuing to assess extent of injury and treatment plan day by day. Rehab already started.”

His management group later estimated that Rory has a “10 percent chance” of playing in the Open. That’s probably optimistic.

Any injury to a golfer’s left side is probably worse than one to the right although neither one is good. A golfer finishes the swing with his weight shifting to the left side. Rory isn’t going to be able to do that very well, if at all, after 10 days of therapy even if the swelling comes down by then. I am not a professional athlete, but I did compete in the U.S. Senior Amateur last year. My left knee gave out in April and required arthroscopic surgery. After three months of therapy and a cortisone shot, I am only just now able to make a full swing and start hitting balls.

What Rory faces will be part physical and part mental. The pain of finishing on the left side will be very real. It will soon become mental, I learned, because it’s difficult to trust a body part that hurts. My ailing knee caused me to bail out on the follow through and pull shots left. That’s when I knew I wasn’t ready to practice.

Rory is going to have the same problem, but if he’s going to play the Open, he doesn’t have the luxury of putting his clubs down and waiting a few more weeks. He’ll have to play through it and if he tries, he will inevitably spray tee shots left and then, after compensating, right. It won’t take very many errant tee shots to take him out of contention at St. Andrews. 

The expected recovery time for ruptured ankle ligaments can be up to 12 weeks. Every injury is different and McIlroy’s pain tolerance will be tested, but he has a powerful swing and is one of the game’s biggest hitters even though he’s not big himself—5 feet 11 inches, maybe. His full-bore power swing isn’t likely to work on a painful ankle.

McIlroy certainly figured to be one of the favorites at St. Andrews. In his first Open there, he tied the major championship scoring record by shooting 63. Strong winds gusted the next day, however, and he struggled to an 80. His length gives him the chance to overpower the course, much as Seve Balleteros, Jack Nicklaus and John Daly did when they won at the Old Course.

In McIlroy’s absence, or at least in his absence from being in contention, the door may have opened a bit wider for Jordan Spieth, who is chasing golf’s Grand Slam. Spieth won the Masters impressively, tying the all-time scoring record of 18 under par, then won the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay with a birdie on the final hole after surviving a double bogey on the 71st hole. Dustin Johnson had an eagle putt on the closing hole to beat Spieth but missed from 12 feet, then missed the return birdie putt, handing Spieth the title.

Richie Ramsay, a U.S. Amateur champion from Scotland, told the BBC that he suffered a similar injury and had a slow recovery.

“I had a full tear of ligaments in my ankle. It takes a lot longer to heal than you think,” Ramsay said. “It was three months until I played and even then getting my foot to work the right way was tough.”

McIlroy, who finished fourth at the Masters and ninth at the U.S. Open, has already withdrawn from this week’s Scottish Open. If he is able to try to defend his Open title from a year ago, it’ll be an upset.

If he’s as smart as he seems, he won’t try.

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