SPORT

EAGLE EYED


Notable Absentees at Maui
By Darren Kilfara

Kapalua, Maui
The Plantation course, Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii. Tiger, Phil and Rory not pictured... because they weren't there. Photo © Mikey V
So I'm settling down to watch the final round of the first PGA Tour event of 2014, the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. It has everything a golf fan should want: a world–class leaderboard, gorgeous scenery, perfect weather, and what is normally one of the three best golf courses on the regular Tour rotation. And yet, all I can think about is what's missing.

Everyone will have noticed that Tiger, Phil and Rory didn't make it to Maui. None of them ever do, but Mr. McIlroy's absence was particularly noteworthy because a) he and Caroline Wozniacki became engaged the week before, and b) he wasn't actually eligible to play in the Tournament of Champions, as he won precisely zero PGA Tour events last year. These two points may well be related.

Rory did win the Australian Open in December (spoiling Adam Scott's bid for an incredible hat–trick of Australian victories), but 2013 was undoubtedly a bad year for the young Irishman. He still seems badly advised, inadequately equipped and hugely distracted – which is fine, if he's content to make lots of money and be lucky in love. Maybe he doesn't care about maximizing his talents. Maybe McIlroy–Wozniacki will last longer as a golf–tennis couple than Norman–Evert and Garcia–Hingis before them.

Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki
Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki (either side of Northern Ireland Tourism Minister Arlene Foster) at the Irish Open golf tournament, 2012. Photo © Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye
Butů see what I did there? That last paragraph represents the ongoing tabloidification of professional golf. Do you ever read the Guardian or Telegraph and wonder why nearly every soccer article is about Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool? This is what golf feels like in 2014: we'd rather psychoanalyze Rory, Tiger and Phil and remorselessly exaggerate their peaks and troughs than cover the great golfers actually, you know, golfing. I don't know what's going through Rory McIlroy's head, and I never will. He seems like a nice kid with explosive talent, and I really do wish him well, but when seven of the top 22 golfers in the world are within two shots of the lead in the final round of a Tour event, maybe we should watch them and not worry about Rory's sex life, why Phil was at the Bengals–Chargers playoff game, or Tiger's mental state with the Masters still three months away.

Meanwhile, something else is missing at Kapalua – its traditional wind patterns. Longtime Maui resident Mark Rolfing recently said this about the Plantation Course at Kapalua: "I think climate change is really kicking into effect here. When this course was designed 25 years ago, it was designed for a trade wind condition that we expected pretty much 300 out of 365 days every year, and that just hasn't been happening."

A few extra birdies and bogeys at a Tour event because of unusual winds don't matter. But as the scientific evidence of climate change becomes increasingly undeniable, the anecdotal evidence of how it is affecting the game I love scares me greatly. Massive storms and floods have recently caused serious damage to notable courses like Lahinch and County Sligo on the Irish coastline and Kananaskis in the Canadian Rockies. The prevailing wind at my home links of Dunbar seems to prevail less and less even as it blows harder and harder; perhaps you've noticed similar trends at your own club as well? None of this proves anything, but while I know extreme golfing weather can be fun in moderation, I really hope it goes missing more often in 2014.

Darren Kilfara formerly worked for Golf Digest magazine and is the author of A Golfer's Education, a memoir of his junior year abroad as a student–golfer at the University of St. Andrews. His new book, a novel called Do You Want Total War?, is also now available online at Amazon and elsewhere.

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