A partner, not a cheerleader
Don't hate the Player, hate the advice?
This past Saturday, nine-time major champion Gary Player told "My Sporting Life" on talk Sport UK he believes Rory McIlroy's struggles on the links are tied to his relationship with professional tennis player Caroline Wozniacki.
Here's the money quote:
"Now the thing is," said Player, who is 77 years old, "for a man like Rory -- the talent galore -- he's got to make sure he has a woman like I've got -- we've been married for 56 years -- that has only encouraged me to do well and made all the sacrifices… He's got to find the right wife, and beauty is not the answer. He's got to be able to be intelligent and to find the right wife. If he finds the right wife, if he practices, if he's dedicated -- a lot of ifs -- he could be the man."
Sounds like exactly the marriage advice you'd get from someone who tied the knot in 1957.
That's not to say Player's advice is completely devoid of value, nor that our grandparents' lessons in love should be ignored. However (and that's a big ol' Stephen A. Smith HOWEVA), there are some major flaws in Player's logic.
Let's break this down a bit, shall we?
First, Player suggests his success was due in part to his wife's willingness to sacrifice everything for his career. According to her husband, Vivienne Player's life has consisted "only" of encouraging him to do well. Indeed, she did spend many years following her husband to tournaments around the world, bringing a nanny and their six children along.
While there's nothing wrong with women who choose to eschew careers of their own in order to support their spouses, the expectation that a wife should act solely as support system is an antiquated one.
Half a century ago, women were far more likely to devote themselves wholly to helping their husbands fulfill their passions and pursuits. For many of today's women, and I imagine Wozniacki is one of them, living to serve the career goals of someone else isn't enough.
Since her WTA debut in 2005, Wozniacki has raked in more than $15 million in tour earnings and makes roughly $10 million more a year in endorsements. According to Forbes, she was the second-highest-earning female athlete in the world in 2011. Just like McIlroy, she's spent nearly her entire life working to achieve the success she is now realizing.
Perhaps Wozniacki's ambition, drive and success are exactly what attracted McIlroy. After all, some men want a teammate in life, not a cheerleader.
Of course, Player doesn't seem to recognize, or perhaps merely doesn't appreciate, Wozniacki's tremendous success.
By warning that McIlroy has "got to find the right wife, and beauty is not the answer," he implies that Wozniacki's beauty must be the draw. Never mind that she's a successful athlete, spokeswoman and role model, and a cultured, worldly polyglot (she speaks eight languages and is fluent in three). Never mind that her understanding of the demands of a professional athlete might make her an ideal match.
In any other context, it would be downright refreshing to hear a professional athlete say that beauty isn't the answer. Of course, in this case, Player isn't telling McIlroy to follow his heart, not his (ahem) head, but rather telling him to follow his brain, not his heart.
Player is right about this much: As a very rich, very famous athlete, McIlroy does need to be smart about who he dates and how the relationship might affect his career. Player may also be right in advising McIlroy to practice and play more, and travel with Wozniacki less.
Of course, McIlroy's struggles may not have anything to do with his love life. To blame Wozniacki is to ignore many other factors that could be contributing to the 24-year-old golfer's slump.
For instance, he signed a huge contract with new sponsor Nike at the beginning of the year -- he could be shrinking under the pressure to perform up to his deal. Along with that sponsorship came new clubs; maybe it's taking longer to adjust than he imagined. And the success he had last year has likely resulted in more appearances, interviews, opportunities and sponsor obligations, all of which cut into his time to actually play golf.
Ah, but the siren song of a beautiful woman is a much better story, isn't it?
"Love is still the greatest thing that'll ever happen in our lives," Player told "My Sporting Life," and his 56-year marriage is a true testament to that. Now he needs to be willing to step back and let McIlroy find his greatest thing, too.
It sounds like a few days hearing his words echoed back to him have already made Player soften his stance. On Monday he tweeted:
"For the record, I am a huge @McIlroyRory fan & supporter. Period. I think @CaroWozniacki is super & good for Rory. I wish them all the best."