Oakley have their man

Fashionable but also the best – Oakley believe Rory McIlroy is the perfect fit for their brand.

There’s something about Rory.
Mostly, of course, it is to do with his golf – he’s not just a magnificent ball-striker capable of audacious shot-making, but the manner of that quality makes everyone (his fellow professionals included) drool; it’s the complete commitment to every swing.
But there is something else as well, that crucial something that sets him apart from the crowd – it’s the curly hair, the cheeky smile, the confident but likeable strut around the golf course, plus the relaxed and approachable personality off it.
Most of us see this and warm to him; Oakley saw this and recognised that the young Northern Irishman offered everything they wanted in a player to lead their golf campaign.
Already in 2011 they’ve got everything they could wish for – McIlroy has led in seven of the eight rounds of major championship golf, won the US Open and, in the wake of defeat in the Masters, impressed everyone with his honesty and humility.
His story has been the story of golf in 2011 and the day after his US Open win Oakley launched an advertisement that captured the essence of that tale.
“Own your defeats,” it said, “and you will be defined by your victories.”
Since that record-breaking win at Congressional, McIlroy’s life has become a whirl of corporate and sponsor’s duties, interviews and appearances, parties and celebrity pats-on-the-back.
When he visited London earlier this week to fulfil long-standing Oakley commitments, we were able to get a glimpse into the new world of Rory, but also appreciate what it is that Oakley have committed to.
Oakley view McIlroy as golfing personification of their brand – relaxed and fashionable but also determined to be the best in the field.
“He respects the game,” goes their line, “but refuses to accept conventional ideas of style and possibility.”
McIlroy is contracted to wear their apparel and Oakley are convinced the gear is the perfect match for him – great to look at but, if tested, unbeatable for performance.
The engineered fabrics of the shirts allows for perfect fit, permitting unconstrained freedom of movement and a key element is their unique moisture management.
On revealing that, on the final day of the Open Championship, Rory will wear a blue shirt a question came from the press.
“Will you ever consider wearing red?” he was asked. There was no further explanation offered or required – it was the Tiger-slash-elephant in the room.
McIlroy batted the query away as he does all potentially tricky media questions (including another one about Ian Poulter’s dress sense) – he grinned as he recognised the potential trap, deflated the situation with dry humour and then dealt with it comfortably (“I wouldn’t say no, it just hasn’t happened yet.”).
His ease with the press is typical of McIlroy’s charm and personality. Throughout the day he chatted with the Oakley reps, with television and sometimes with fans. He was relaxed and unhurried.
At one point, in-between duties, McIlroy spotted the boxer David Haye being interviewed on the TV screens, he wandered over to someone watching and asked a few questions – they chatted away like two sports fans before Rory bid farewell and then stood in front of the cameras himself.
It is typical Rory and long may it continue. He’s the man of the moment, but the glass wall that separates some superstars from the public is yet to be constructed around him.
After a day with Oakley, an afternoon at Wimbledon followed but, between now and the Open, golf returns to the top of the agenda (with a quick visit to Hamburg for the Haye World Championship fight thrown in).
McIlroy knows what got him to the top of the game and he also knows what he wants next: “Winning one major is a big step, but I think it can lead to me winning more.”
He’s contended in each of the last four majors, was victorious in the latest and has something to prove at the Open (he hit three fine rounds at St Andrews in 2010 and was derailed only by a poor second round).
The pressure and attention will be massive: he’s acknowledged as much and will steer clear of much of it by travelling to Sandwich one week before the event and then delaying his arrival before the event itself.
But if he’s the man Oakley (and the rest of us) think he is – hungry but also grounded – then the Rory of today will be much like the Rory of tomorrow, even if he does become a superstar.