On March 1, 2013, Rory McIlroy, at that moment the number-one golfer in the world, did the unthinkable: He quit in the middle of the second round of the Honda Classic at the Champion Course at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
Big mistake. Commentators, professional golfers, and duffers all weighed in criticizing his action almost from the moment he did it. Even Jack Nicklaus weighed in: “‘He shouldn’t have walked off,’ Nicklaus said. ‘If he had thought about it for 5 minutes, he wouldn’t have done it.’”
Then McIlroy made his next mistake: He tried to excuse his action in a tweet by explaining that he was in pain from a toothache: “Apologies to all at the Honda. A tough day made impossible by severe tooth pain. Was desperate to defend title but couldn’t play on. Gutted”
Maybe, but really he was in pain from being seven shots over par after eight holes. On the 18th hole (which in reality was only the ninth hole of the match because he started on the tenth hole), he dumped yet another shot into the water. Staring at a bogey or perhaps even a double bogey, he had had enough; he informed his playing partners who urged him not to quit, and then he walked off the course.
Time and again I’ve written about and talked about the importance of owning up to your mistakes, of not trying to hide them or justify them with some lame excuse. It simply doesn’t work, especially in this age of Twitter and blogs where everyone has an opinion and can share it with everyone else, instantly. Americans are incredibly tolerant of people’s foibles as long as the miscreant owns up to his or her mistake. Fail to own up and you risk having your mistake, which is manageable, turn into a major problem.
It didn’t take long for McIlroy and/or his handlers to figure out that the lame toothache excuse was going to boomerang on them if they didn’t head it off at the pass. So on Sunday evening, March 3, McIlroy spoke with senior Sports Illustrated writer Michael Bamberger about the incident. He ceased trying to find an excuse and instead took full responsibility: “What I did was not good for the tournament, not good for the kids and the fans who were out there watching me — it was not the right thing to do.” By apologizing and doing it sincerely, he’s believable.
That was the best way to put the incident behind him. And it is the best way for each of us to handle situations in which we have erred. It’s these three steps that will help resolve the situation and put the error behind you:
- Apologize sincerely,
- Take responsibility,
- Move on.