Editor’s Note: This story was first published in June 2022.

“Illusion never changed, into something real

I’m wide awake and I can see the perfect sky is torn.”

—Aussie singer Natalie Imbruglia, presumably singing about Rory McIlroy

Dear Rory,

I can’t take this anymore. I’m happy for Matt Fitzpatrick, and I know you are too, and I’m happy for the sport of golf. But sitting here alone, on another bleak Sunday night, watching the fireflies outside the window, I can’t escape my own truth. And my truth is that I dreamed of something different this weekend. Something more. I’m talking about real-life dreams, Rory, not like at night when I have nightmares of being chased by wolf-cats with the face of Tyrrell Hatton.

I dreamed of you winning in the light of day, and why wouldn’t I? You were a shot off the lead after the first round. You were a shot off the lead after the second round. Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic, a real Dustin Johnson type, but I believed again. I believed in you. Maybe you’re like the firefly, Rory. You shone so brightly, so spectacularly, but for such a short time. And also like the firefly, I assume you don’t want to be captured in a jar.

Now that the sun has set on another major, I have to ask a hard question: what changed? What’s different about this week than Southern Hills and the PGA, where you led outright after the first round? Or the Masters, where you made one of your patented Sunday charges when it was too late to win? And that was just this year. How long have we been doing this? How long have you persisted in giving me false hope, only to yank it away repeatedly, like when my so-called friend in high school would offer me a ride home, then pull ahead a few feet the minute I reached the passenger door, over and over until I would start to chase him in a blind rage, only to learn a lesson that many a dog learned long ago, which is that you cannot catch a car on foot, and even if you do, it’s basically impregnable?

How many years have I made excuses? How many times have I told everyone, “yeah, he hasn’t won a major in a while, but look at all those yellow top-10 finishes on Wikipedia? You just don’t understand him like I do.”

My parents said I was a fool. “Why waste your time with him?” they said. “Find yourself someone young and exciting, like Collin Morikawa, or maybe a nice stable gentleman like Zach Johnson. Did you know he’s going to be Ryder Cup captain? And he goes to church!”

Oh, I’d defend you. Sometimes viciously. “Remember 2014?!” I’d yell. “Remember Valhalla?! Remember Royal Liverpool?! How he faced down Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler and stood astride the game like Colossus?! Do you remember that, you *$%&$*ing #$(&#$s?! LIKE A COLOSSUS!”

But those are memories now. Memories from a full decade ago. You know what else happened a decade ago? I have no idea. The Enron thing? Something with Yugoslavia? Nobody knows. How long can a relationship last on memories? On what was, instead of what is and what will be? How long am I supposed to pretend we’re both still the young, innocent kids we were then, cocky and cool, you out there winning golf tournaments, me sitting around watching you win golf tournaments? How long can I pretend that’s the reality of our relationship, and not the dull “old couple sighing at each other over a 4:30 p.m. dinner” stagnation that has settled in since?

As harsh as this sounds, when I look at you on major Sundays now, I find myself asking, “do I actually feel anything for this person anymore? Do I even know him? Have I ever really known him, or is this just a weird parasocial relationship that’s going to end with me writing an even weirder breakup letter to a man who wouldn’t know my name if I shouted it in his face 10 times in a row, which I did once at the Tour Championship, and I apologize for that, both to you, to Golf Digest, and to all my readers, because I hold myself to a higher standard than that as a journalist, and there’s a drive to deep left field by Castellanos, and I’m not sure I’m going to be published in these pages again?”

Sure, I still feel the flames. At times. The Players Championship. A couple Tour Championships. The Match Play. We had some good times in Dubai. The HSBC. The Wells Fargo. The CJ Cup, I guess? And yeah, even last week, when you defended the honor of PGA Tour by winning the Canadian Open and planting a flag for the good guys. Even then, the fire was burning, and it’s hard to get a metaphorical fire going in Canada. Or a real one. Too much snow, I’m told.

But a man gets worn down. Hope dissipates, belief wanes. And who are we now, really? If I’m honest with myself, I’m someone who has wasted almost a decade of my life waiting for a transformation. And you’re someone who used to win majors. Used to.

God, it’s hard to write those words. I know why people stay together—it’s because of time invested, it’s because of fear of the unknown, it’s because of the deadening force of habit. But it’s also because there was something genuine there, once upon a time. Remember how mad Phil Mickelson got at Valhalla, when you basically forced your way into teeing off in the darkness? That was one of the best days of my life. Then, a few months later at the Ryder Cup, you taunted him about the FBI. You never piss off Phil Mickelson anymore, Rory. It’s a small thing, but sometimes the small things are what keep us going. I’m not saying you need to piss off Phil Mickelson all the time, but would once or twice a year really kill you?

There’s no way around this, Rory. I can’t keep doing this. It’s time for me to see other golfers. Someone like…

…​ OK​, well if you put me on the spot, I’m not going to be able to just yell out a name. That’s not fair. I’m not Rod Roddy here, just yelling out names willy-nilly. Sure, that’s a really sad, dated reference, but it’s a metaphor for what we had. Sad. Dated. I’ll always wish you well, and I’ll smile a sad nostalgic smile when you win, but this isn’t good for either of us.

I know what you’re thinking: “You’ve said you were leaving before. You’ll be back, just like always, you creep. You pathetic loser. You fat aging has-been​.”​

First off, there’s no need for those kinds of insults. This is a tough time for all of us, but come on, man. That’s really personal.

Second off, there is nothing that could bring me back. Not this time. Etch it in stone.

(Unless, of course, you do anything remotely promising before, during, or even after the Open Championship at St. Andrews. Literally anything. Then? I’m back, all in, and ready to catch that Rory fever, baby!)

In conclusion, we’re done.