Rory McIlroy diverged from the tactics of several of his British Open competitors, including Tiger Woods, when he went on record as opposing the all-male membership policy in place at the club where the penultimate major championship of the season will start on Thursday.
"It’s something I’ve never thought about. I just don’t think it’s something that is a real issue anymore," McIlroy, who’s seeking to shrug off the lackluster first half of his 2013 season by winning his third major this week at Muirfield, told reporters on Wednesday. "Obviously it’s an issue at some golf clubs, but in terms of life in general, I think men and women are treated equally for the most part these days. And that’s the way it should be."
McIlroy was responding to a question about the issue of the day, which took center stage when R&A chief executive Peter Dawson argued unconvincingly that it was fine with him if private courses hosting the Open Championship excluded women from membership. The 24-year-old world No. 2 is of a different generation certainly than Dawson but also than several of his golf peers who declined to take Muirfield or golf’s governing body, which also bans women members, to task for their discriminatory practices.
"That's for the club to decide," the 55-year-old Faldo said on Monday.
Defending champ Ernie Els had more to offer on the topic but also declined to jump into the fray.
"You know, it's a hard one. The club's been like this for many years...and they've never thought about changing their policy," Els, 43, said during his Monday presser.
"We play The Open Championship at this wonderful golf course, and I'm not going to miss it for the world, whether it's got, unfortunately, the policy it has. It is what it is. But we go to play The Open Championship and I'll go play it in the Sahara Desert if I have to," he said. "But it is what it is. You can ask the chairman why that policy is in place. It is what it is. And we play where we play."
Even Woods, who’s not all that much older, at 37, than McIlroy, but tends to avoid offering opinions on political or social issues, took a pass on the controversial topic.
Urged to discuss his comfort level teeing it up at clubs that discriminated, Woods skirted the matter.
"We’ve played the Masters, we’ve played here," he said.
As for McIlroy, the world No. 2 also had some words for Faldo, who frequently harps at the two-time major champion for changing his golf equipment to start the season. The six-time major winner-turned TV analyst who’s returning this week for one last shot at the claret jug has also scolded McIlroy to focus on his craft.
"You have a window [of opportunity] for 20 years, you hope, and you have enough to concentrate on [inside the ropes]," he said to Jack Nicklaus during a broadcast of the Memorial tournament in May. "You gotta go play."
McIlroy rebutted Sir Nick’s approach shot with an overhead smash.
"I saw what he said," McIlroy responded. "He said I should be on the course from nine to five. I actually was on the range yesterday at 6:15 and got out of the gym last night at 6:15, so actually had a 12-hour day compared to his eight-hour day."
Faldo has not been the only pundit picking away at McIlroy for going winless in 2013 after his dominating, player-of-the-year, PGA Championship-winning 2012 campaign. Johnny Miller opined recently that McIlroy was "a bit of a mess" and suggested that his relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki was a "distraction."
McIlroy, who has one top-10 finish in five British Open starts, laughed off the remarks.
"I think, 'What’s the big deal?'" he said. "I haven’t had the best six months, but it’s okay. I’m fine. I’ve got a good life. You know, it doesn’t bother me. I’m in a good place. I’m working hard. I feel like I’m working on the right things. And sooner or later, it will turn around and I’ll be back lifting trophies."
For now and the foreseeable future, McIlroy planned to tune out the negative vibes.
"The best way [to deal with criticism] is to not read too much or not listen too much or not watch too much TV, especially about yourself," McIlroy said. "Try and stay oblivious to what people are saying about you [and] try and wrap yourself in a little bubble.
"It’s hard to avoid at times," McIlroy allowed. "You just have to have the confidence and the self-belief...that you’re doing the right things and know that what you’re doing is going to get you to the place that you want to be."