Rory McIlroy’s personal life surfaces at another major. Is it our business?  

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland takes a phone call during his practice round prior to the 2024 U.S. Open on the No.2 Course at Pinehurst Resort

Rory McIlroy during a practice round at the 124th U.S. Open.

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PINEHURST, N.C. — It’s appalling, really, our interest in the private lives of public people. Who would not wish Erica and Rory well? Only the most miserable among us.

But if you follow golf, Rory McIlroy has been in your life for more than 15 years now, and your interest in his life is inseparable from your interest in his golf. It’s just human nature.

You have lived, and parts of you have maybe died, in his victories and in his defeats. His four wins in majors, of course, but also his too-cautious Sunday play while in the last group at the Old Course at the British Open two summers ago, the fourth-round 80 he shot at Augusta in 2011, after waking up that day with a four-shot lead. You’ve seen him celebrating European Ryder Cups victories in Paris and Rome, and crying after a team drubbing at Whistling Straits.

You remember how he called off his engagement to the tennis star Caroline Wozniacki in 2013, and how he met his future wife, Erica Stoll, a young PGA of America employee, while running way late for a Ryder Cup tee time at Medinah. On the eve of the PGA Championship, not even a month ago, you learned that McIlroy had filed for a divorce. And here, on the eve of the U.S. Open, you learned that the divorce proceeding is off. From a Florida court document: “Petitioner Rory D. McIlroy, by and through the undersigned counsel, hereby voluntarily dismisses, without prejudice, the above styled matter.” His interesting life makes our mundane lives more interesting. That’s why we attach ourselves to these outsized lives in the first place. 

On Wednesday afternoon, McIlroy played a nine-hole practice round with the German golfer Martin Kaymer, who won the U.S. Open here in 2014. McIlroy was wearing shorts and playing with his shirttail out on a warm and humid day. He chatted casually with the caddies and with Kaymer and made body-English get-up-ball motions with his stocky arms, as if the shots mattered. He was getting ready to play his third major of the year and the 62nd major of his career. He’s only 35. Can he improve upon his T22 finish at Augusta in April and his T11 finish at the PGA in Louisville next month? Survey says: We shall see.

He’s leading an interesting life. An interesting and public life. Monday-night golf under the lights and the stars this past February. On the Tour board. Off the Tour board. Maybe back on? Maybe? Ah, no. A life, almost, out of a soap opera, or a Netflix documentary.

For the past two years, he’s been the voice of the Golf Establishment, of Jimmy Dunne and Jay Monahan, of the PGA Tour and the Legacy of Tiger Woods. Rory’s words, in his Belfast lilt, have flowed forth from him like silk off a spool. Did he get addicted to the attention? If he did, he wouldn’t be the first. It’s fun, being the smartest person in the room. Ask Phil. He’ll tell you. It’s fun, having all the best words, and all that talent, too. Lee Trevino. Golf’s great shot-maker would be a first-ballot Hall of Fame talker, too.

The work of marriage is the work of marriage, unfolding far away from the red light of a camera or a tight pack of microphones. Any married person will tell you that, five years in, 10 years in, 64 years in. OK, let’s not rush Barbara and Jack. They celebrate their 64th anniversary next month.

The divorce rate, in my unscientific survey of the top-100 or more players on the all-time PGA Tour money list, is unusually low. More than 40 percent of first marriages in the United States end in divorce. The Tour divorce rate, in these northern reaches, is way lower than that. Of course, fighting about money is a leading cause of divorce. Also, golfers tend not to be rash, impulsive and explosive people.

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Dissolved marriages in professional golf have always received attention. Greg Norman and Chris Evert divorced after 18 months, and Nancy Lopez and the baseball lifer Ray Knight were married for 27 before their marriage broke up. Colin Montgomerie, before the 1997 Ryder Cup, predicted, obnoxiously but not unreasonably, that Brad Faxon would fare poorly at the Ryder Cup, distracted by the dissolution of his first marriage. (Brad won one match and lost twice.) The dissolution of Monty’s first marriage came later. The only time I ever saw Tiger Woods flat-out dub a shot came on the day he was served with divorce papers while playing in the AT&T tournament at Aronimink in 2010.

Exceptions. There are always exceptions, and we can add Lee Trevino and Tom Watson and Annika Sorenstam to that list. But for Ben Hogan and Gary Player and Arnold Palmer, for Babe Zaharias and JoAnne Carner and Judy Rankin, for countless other touring pros on both sides of the aisle, ‘till death do us part was not just a line in a script. It was baked into their lives.

So Rory McIlroy will now spend four days, here at Pinehurst, trying to focus on his golf. Along the way, he’ll be trying to change the many and various “narratives” surrounding his public life. This week was already interesting. Now this week in general, and Rory’s week in particular, is more interesting yet.

When Rory had finished his Wednesday tune-up on No. 2, he soul-clapped with his caddie, Harry Diamond. (Not something you usually see at the end of a nine-hole practice round.) He put on his bright orange player’s lanyard. He signed autographs for kids. He walked across a fairway and up a gentle hill to a shuttle van, to take him back home. That is, to the clubhouse.

He was alone, nothing in his hands. We can imagine what his phone was doing, just then. All those incoming texts, calls, DMs. His phone had to be blowing up, right? We’re always imagining something, even when we don’t know anything.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at

Michael Bamberger

Michael Bamberger Contributor

Michael Bamberger writes for GOLF Magazine and Before that, he spent nearly 23 years as senior writer for Sports Illustrated. After college, he worked as a newspaper reporter, first for the (Martha’s) Vineyard Gazette, later for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He has written a variety of books about golf and other subjects, the most recent of which is The Second Life of Tiger Woods. His magazine work has been featured in multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing. He holds a U.S. patent on The E-Club, a utility golf club. In 2016, he was given the Donald Ross Award by the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the organization’s highest honor.

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