It was 2010, Rory McIlroy, then just 21, was under fire for his disrespectful comments about Tiger Woods, ahead of the Ryder Cup matches.
McIlroy told the BBC in September 2010, “I would love to face Tiger, unless his game rapidly improves in the next month or so, I think anyone in the European team would fancy his chances against him.”
The first to defend Rory? Phil Mickelson.
Lefty called the Northern Irishman one of the classiest players in golf.
“That’s the type of charisma that Rory McIlroy has, he’s just like any other top player that wants to take on the best. That’s not any type of controversy or saga.” Mickelson said.
“Rory is one of the nicest guys you can imagine. He’s one of the classiest guys out on tour. Tiger gets along with just about everybody — usually because he beats them, and he’s nice to them when he beats them. Rory is as classy a guy as there is. I’ve been paired with him a bunch, and I really enjoy playing with him.”
Five years later, after Rory was being criticized for injuring himself ahead of the British Open, Mickelson once again stepped up and defended McIlroy.
“You can’t live your life in fear or caution. You have got to enjoy the moment. I didn’t feel like anything he was doing was unnecessary risk. He was just playing around and accidents happen.
“People get hurt taking a shower or doing normal day-to-day things. You can’t stop living your life,” said Mickelson.
Fast forward to this past weekend, a dozen years after Mickelson first defended his younger competitor, Rory stepped to the microphone in Los Angeles, and instead of defending his colleague, trying to cool things down, the now 32-year-old trashed the six-time major winner to the delight of the same media that wanted his head years earlier.
“I don’t want to kick someone while he’s down obviously, but I thought they were naïve, selfish, egotistical, ignorant,” McIlroy told reporters at the Genesis Invitational. “A lot of words to describe that interaction he had with Shipnuck. It was just very surprising and disappointing, sad. I’m sure he’s sitting at home sort of rethinking his position and where he goes from here.”
Rory is a real class act. Just ask Steve Elkington.