The Irish Mail on Sunday
The pink hairdo and how it all went wrong
WHEN Caroline Wozniacki turned up last month with her hair dyed pink at Augusta National, the venerable Georgia golf club that epitomises Deep South gentility and hosts the annual US Masters tournament, one can only imagine what Rory McIlroy thought.
Three years ago, he came within a whisker of winning the green jacket, the most coveted prize in the game, on this very course, laying down a marker for the benefit of those who might have missed it that he was the most gifted player of his generation.
As a young man inculcated from early childhood with the often arcane rules of golf, both on the course and off, he would know how such gauche grandstanding would be viewed by others. And while Augusta’s eight decades of tradition also include a repugnant, and only recently overturned, resistance to black and female members, it is a place where players and their partners are expected to behave in a certain way.
For most, this is not an issue. Golfers, and American golfers in particular, like their wives blonde and just a little on the Stepford side, the sort of women who carry toddlers onto the 18th green to kiss daddy when he wins a tournament. Their role is supportive to the point of subservience.
Caroline, though, is very different. As a professional sportswoman herself, a former world No. 1 in tennis, she is used to the attention being on her. McIlroy understood this and when he attended her tournaments, he maintained a low profile; instinctively, he knew his role on such occasions was to be a partner, not a rival for publicity.
As the dust settles on their relationship, which McIlroy ended this week just after their wedding invitations had been sent out, it is perhaps becoming easier to see where it all went wrong. Caroline seems to have viewed their life together as a series of photo ops to share with her followers on Twitter, and injudiciously tweeted some that were so intimate – a suited McIlroy eating breakfast with her wearing sweats and her bare-chested brother – that they made those who viewed them
It was a territorial act: ‘Look! This is the man who sleeps in my bed’
feel uncomfortably like voyeurs.
‘Breakfast at the Wozniacki’s! [sic],’ she wrote. ‘Overdressed, underdressed and not dressed at all!’
But that was not the worst. The low point came when she tweeted a picture of McIlroy asleep in bed with his mouth wide open. It seemed to scream that the couple still were together after rumours of a previous split and it was a remarkably territorial act – ‘look! This man sleeps in my bed every night’.
Just who this confirmation was aimed at is debateable. Most people have lives of their own to worry about, so the endless public validation of the relationship seemed to mean more to Caroline herself.
Maybe that is understandable. After all, while the timing of the split may have been a surprise, those who know McIlroy say the break-up was not. In fact, the real surprise came last October when, despite a hailstorm of rumour that the relationship was on the rocks, the couple remained together.
When they first met, at the David Haye vs Wladimir Klitschko fight in Hamburg in July 2011, there seems to have been an instant spark and, establishing the pattern for the future, it burned brightly on Twitter.
‘Fantastic fight! Also met Rory McIlroy, who was sitting just behind me:) Really down to earth great guy:),’ she tweeted the next day.
A week later, on her 21st birthday, McIlroy tweeted: ‘happy birthday! you’re getting old ;)’, to which she replied, ‘haha I know! But still not as old as you;0 at least now you will be able to buy me a drink in the US haha.’
The sporting couple have spent the past three years exposing every aspect of their relationship on social media – she loved it, but he was struggling
They were the slightly immature early flirtations of a couple definitely interested in each other but, for McIlroy, there was a complication in the form of his childhood sweetheart, Holly Sweeney.
When he won the 2011 US Open at the Congressional Country Club near Washington DC, he spoke of how Holly kept him grounded. ‘She said, “We’ll empty your suitcase at the washing machine”,’ he told an interviewer.
But this was a man, just 22 at the time, who had won the US Open by a record margin of shots. He didn’t need grounding, he didn’t need to be brought down to earth. He needed celebrating, boosting, to be spurred on to even greater things.
With millions in the bank and potentially the greatest career in the game ahead of him, all around him should have told him his sole focus from that moment on should be his golf, with no domestic distractions in the way.
Whether that dawned on him we may never know, but it was not long afterwards that he and Holly parted ways and he took up with Caroline Wozniacki. It was a match made in heaven, at least for a time. For McIlroy, it must have been a relief to be with someone who understood the burden of expectation and the pressures of fame.
Both had trained for their sports since they were children and had made many personal sacrifices along the way, practising endlessly while their peers enjoyed more traditional childhood pursuits.
Inspired by his new girlfriend’s fitness regime, McIlroy went from weedy to muscular and put in many hours at the gym. On one occasion, on the fairway, he showed he could do the full splits, which takes a level of suppleness most men never attain.
In the first year with Caroline, his game was breathtaking. He was PGA Player of the Year, he topped the US and European Order of Merit tables, he won a second major, the US PGA,