Irishman has gotten a pass so far on remarks

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Just because the barely 20-year-old Rory McIlroy can't legally drink a pint of Guinness over here doesn't mean the Northern Irishman has to drink Kool-Aid over there. At least not a cup of Rah-Rah Ryder-berry Punch, an intoxicating flavor distributed almost exclusively in European markets.

The young McIlroy shook up European golf circles on the eve of the Irish Open on Wednesday with his comments about the Ryder Cup, calling the biennial team event that pits Europe against the Americans an "exhibition" and "not a huge goal of mine." If he had denounced the monarchy he might have gotten less press exposure.

Let's just say the European Tour may soon have to employ chiropractors to tend to its media bending over backwards to defend his opinions as merely youthful naivete instead of blasphemy. They've spent so much time building McIlroy up as Europe's answer to Tiger Woods, they just never expected him to answer this question like Tiger Woods.

A smug "he'll learn" from Captain Colin Montgomerie is the harshest rebuke McIlroy has yet received.

You think an American would be treated so gingerly by the notoriously biased European press that cheers in the media centre? Fat chance. Ask Hunter Mahan if he got off as lightly last summer for his clumsy second-hand analysis of the event as an over-hyped burden on the players. The Euro press wrongly assumed he would be overlooked as a captain's pick as punishment for his insolence.

Heck, Anthony Kim got skewered at a European Tour event last winter for not knowing who Europe had chosen as captain for the 2010 event.

No, the Europeans are not a very forgiving lot when it comes to their sanctimony regarding Samuel Ryder's cup. If some British newspapers have already started stockpiling obits of former Open champions, you can predict how a few of them will be slanted.

Tom Lehman, the 1996 Open champion at Royal Lytham who scandalously led the ambush of Americans prematurely overrunning the green in the tarnished 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline ...

Tiger Woods, the three-time Open champion who once said he could "think of a million reasons" why he'd rather win a WGC event than a Ryder Cup ...

David Duval, the 2001 Open champion at Royal Lytham who greedily lobbied for players to get a share of the Ryder Cup windfall ...

Mark O'Meara, the 1998 Open champion at Royal Birkdale who (see Duval) ...

Now this Irish golf prodigy comes along and dares to cross the party line by having a frank and valid opinion of his own. McIlroy is challenging the cash cow that's been overcooked since the event expanded into a continental affair in the '80s. He's added a dose of perspective his European brethren aren't accustomed to hearing from one of their own.

"In the Ryder Cup, it's a great spectacle for golf, but an exhibition at the end of the day and it should be there to be enjoyed," McIlroy said. "I think if I get on it, you know, you enjoy the week, and if you win or lose, it's a great experience and you move on from it. In the big scheme of things, it's not that important of an event for me.

"If I can get on the team by my own merit and lucky enough to be there, I'll relish every moment of it. Obviously I'll try my best for the team. But you know, I'm not going to go running around fist-pumping."

To the kid's immense credit, he didn't back down when badgered for "clarification" a day later after playing with the reigning captain who emphatically declared that "the Ryder Cup is not an exhibition and it never will be."

That Monty's feathers were particularly ruffled by a young player with higher personal ambitions than winning a team event every other year is understandable. It is no surprise that some of the most vocal defenders of the Ryder Cup as the pinnacle of achievement are guys who may be compensating for never having won a major championship themselves (see Montgomerie, Sergio Garcia and recently anointed Hall of Famer Christie O'Connor Sr. to name just a few).

Monty is at least correct that the Ryder Cup is not an "exhibition." It's a competition with results that count on the record just as much as the Georgia-Florida football game every year (those players don't get paid either). It's a terrific, pressure-packed event and one any player should aspire to play a part.

But the jingoism has gotten as out of hand as the Euro sanctimony over its importance. Here's hoping Rory's fresh perspective will finally rub off other there and end the rhetoric against players who express similar sentiments.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.


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