The Northern Irish golfer who has a big lead at the British Open today, Rory McIlroy, is being touted by sports commentators–both at Royal Liverpool and in TV studios–as “likeable.” They can’t believe it, it seems. Look at that confidence. Look at the fans follow him, they say. Well, McIlroy is playing great. He’s the best putter out there. And his hometown fans didn’t have to travel far to watch—just 280 miles lay between McIlroy’s birthplace in Holywood to the golf course in Hoylake.
Everyone in the big business of golf is searching for the next Tiger Woods, a charismatic player who can lure people into the game, get them glued to the TV sets, even if they’ve never held a club. Reminiscing about the olden days of Woods’ dominance this morning on ESPN’s Sports Center, Mike Lupica compared Woods’ widespread popularity to that of the Kardashians. Israel Gutierrez corrected him saying “yes, but he accomplished something.” McIlroy might prove to have the talent of Tiger on the course–let’s see if he wins 30% of his starts for five years–but he has yet to develop that post-round, on-camera aura. A smile that can sell anything from cars to watches. Even more than that, Tiger sold golf itself, to millions of people who weren’t interested before and haven’t been since his demise. It’s something besides likeability that does it. It’s a rare, rare charisma. McIlroy doesn’t have that, even if everyone besides Carolyn Wozniacki and her friends think he’s adorable.