He is 25 years old -- just turned 25 in the first week of this month. He is fabulously wealthy, wealthier than rock stars and corporate CEOs and even a few lower-level hedge fund managers. The world barks at Rory McIlroy, barks and whistles and tap dances for his attention. He walks across newly-mown grass in the morning to make this grand living, but can do anything he wants at night. Anything at all.
That was why the famous professional golfer was 100 percent right to break the famous tennis player Caroline Wozniacki's heart a week ago by calling off their nearly five-month engagement. The nights still beckoned.
"There is no right way to end a relationship that has been so important to two people," he said in a prepared statement that he read before the start of the BMW PGA Championship in England, a tournament he proceeded to win for his victory this season. "The problem is mine. The wedding invitations issued at the weekend made me realize that I wasn't ready for all that marriage entails. I wish Caroline all the happiness she deserves and thank her for all the great times that we've had."
"It was a bit of a shock," Ms. Wozniacki admitted at the French Open, where she was eliminated in the first round, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-2 by Belgium's Yanina Wickmayer. "I don't really want to talk about my personal life."
The decision was stunning. This was a relatable, real-life moment.
How many men have come to this point -- the invitations in the mail, the words "til death do you part" suddenly echoing in their heads, spoken by a voice that sounds like James Earl Jones? How many have thought about walking the other way, then remembered the non-refundable down payments for the disc jockey, the caterer and the Knights of Columbus Hall? Relatives have booked flights from faraway cities. Dresses and suits have been purchased. Plans and congratulations are everywhere. How many men have been able to think about all this and say the word "no"? Not many.
This particular wedding was going to be in November in New York. The Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center had already been rented. The one name that had been leaked from the guest list was Bill Clinton. The couple had become engaged on New Year's Eve in Sydney, Australia, with fireworks exploding in the background as he slipped an eight-carat diamond ring worth over $150,000 onto her finger. This would be the fairy-tale finish to their three-year courtship.
Wow. The pressure was enormous.
To listen to his head and his heart -- to look at the bright lights and pretty women out there and decide that now is too early to commit to a long-range plan of kids and contentment -- was to step away from a conventional freight train that was coming at a faster and faster clip. The world wants everyone to get married. That is a given. Settle down. Have some kids. To go against that thinking took more than one deep breath.
"It was a brave decision," fellow golfer Padraig Harrington told the British newspaper, The Independent. "There are many people who have gone through with things that they feel in hindsight that they shouldn't have. It really was a big decision to call it off and take all that heat and pressure and stress. It would have been simpler to keep going...I'm sure that's what Rory felt he had to do, and he realized when those invites went out that he just wasn't ready for it."
If he needed to look for examples of compromised married life, he didn't have to look far. Go to any event that involves professional athletes and cocktails after dark, and there will be well-known (and not-so-well-known) married men following unmarried pursuits. Most of them undoubtedly were married before they became famous and rich, before they had to deal with this faster life. Temptations have arisen that they didn't even know existed. They do not handle them very well.
Of course, the prime example from the golf course is Mr. Tiger Woods. Married in 2004 when he was 28 to Elin Nordegren, a Swedish model who had been employed by tour regular Jesper Parnevik as an au pair, Woods' personal life exploded five years later. A National Enquirer story about an extramarital affair led to that famous collision with the fire hydrant outside his home in Windemere, Fla., which was followed by the deluge of allegations about extramarital relations.
The best golfer in the world, seemingly built to fit a corporate image of conservative, married stability, had this second, much more wild life. Half the women in America not only seemed to know him, but know him darn well. He admitted that he had succumbed to temptations. The situation was a mess that destroyed his marriage and his reputation in a hurry. His health and his golf game soon followed.
This was the graphic lesson that McIlroy watched unfold every day in front of him. He and Tiger are the two grand spokesmen for Nike Golf. This was the close-up tale of what can happen after a man says "I do."
Q: Would this have been a different type of story if Tiger Woods hadn't been married?
Q: Has it been a different story since he was divorced?
The unmarried Tiger has settled into his relationship with Lindsey Vonn, the skier, and stayed out of the tabloids. Elin Nordegren has become a friend and says he is "a good father." He probably is. He doesn't have to cheat on anyone anymore. He can simply live.
The decision McIlroy made was a decision to stay in the barking, whistling world for a while longer. There is nothing wrong with that. He is 25 years old. The barking, whistling world is built for people who are in that under-30 neighborhood. Ask Johnny Manziel, rookie quarterback. Ask Rob Gronkowski, tight end. Ask any of the names on the rosters of your local pro-sports franchises. Ask the singers, the starlets, the actors, the young entrepreneurs, the fast-trackers with good teeth and expensive shoes.
Will Rory McIlrory get married? No doubt he will, maybe even to Caroline Wozniacki. He simply isn't ready right now.
Good that he recognized that fact. Good for everyone involved.