There is no denying that over the past three years, Rory McIlroy has taken over from Tiger Woods as the number one draw in golf. Winner of both the European and US Money lists last season, world number one and winner of his second Major title at the USPGA in 2012, to add to his US Open success of 2011.
Yet 2013 promises to be a crucial year in the life of the Irishman, indeed one filled with many issues that could have a massive impact on how his future progresses. So what are these key issues facing the Irishman this year; we’ve outlined three key reasons below.
1. Rory changing club sponsor to Nike
It is now something of an open secret that McIlroy is set to become the new face of Nike Golf. His deals with long-time sponsors Oakley, Titleist (his club provider) and the Jumeirah Group have either all expired or are not going to be renewed.
As part of the Nike deal (reported to be worth around £156m) McIlroy will, of course, have to change the clubs he uses and while the deal is not yet confirmed officially, the Irishman has been practising with a new set of Nike’s finest and was photographed before the deal was announced playing with the set of clubs shown below.
Interestingly, while all the clubs in the bag are Nike, McIlroy has opted to retain his trusted Scotty Cameron putter. We’ll feature Rory’s new clubs on Gorilla Golf as soon as they are all confirmed officially.
The move is a huge one as McIlroy has used the same clubs and been used to the same sponsors since he turned professional. Switching to the Nike Brand brings with it different pressures and will certainly increase his global presence. As Tiger Woods has so demonstrably shown, handling the burden of these pressures is not always easy.
More interesting will be seeing what effect changing his clubs has on McIlroy’s game. You won’t have long to find out as the deal is expected to be announced on Monday 14th January, with the Irishman kicking off his 2013 season in Abu Dhabi just three days later.
2. McIlroy’s Olympic decision – Who will he represent, if anybody?
Another crucial decision McIlroy will have to take at some point this year, if only to quieten the speculation, is about his participation in the 2016 Olympic Golf Tournament.
While McIlroy’s qualification for the event seems unlikely to be an issue, what is a raging debate is which country he will elect to represent, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or Ireland.
Given the fractious nature of the relationship between Great Britain and Ireland over Northern Ireland, this debate has moved away from the realms of being a personal decision for McIlroy and into an overtly political one and it is clearly one that the player feels uncomfortable with.
So much so that in recent times, he has raised the issue of not competing in the Olympics for fear of offending either the Irish people or the people of GB and Ireland by electing to represent the other team.
In a way, you can understand the logic, but would Olympic organisers and sponsors, including McIlroy’s own sponsor Nike, be so happy if the World Number 1 golfer and multiple major winner sits out at the biggest sporting event in the world?
Unfortunately for Rory McIlroy, the history between the two countries makes his choice an invidious one and you can understand his reticence to state his position. However he must make a decision one way or the other, if only to end the speculation about if he will go and if he does, which country he will be representing.
2013 may well be a big year for the Irishman, he will almost certainly be challenging for the Major titles once again and it will be interesting to see if he can retain his world number one spot but both on and off the field, McIlroy races some stern challenges in the coming year which could well affect his career in the long term both on and off the course.
It is therefore vital, that he gets both these crucial decisions, right.
(Images courtesy of Rory McIlroy Facebook Page, Yahoo Sports.com, Rio 2016 Website)