Golf sage Gary Player gave some downright medieval dating advice to Rory McIlroy, like find a wife “that makes all the sacrifices” necessary for him to be the best golfer in the world. Assuming McIlroy is distracted by girlfriend/tennis superstar Caroline Wozniacki, and this lies at the heart of his recent struggles on the golf course, Player emphasized a supportive wife is what McIlroy should look for, and perhaps in a fellow professional athlete is not the best place to look for her.
This is sound advice from a bygone era. But, as is feminists’ wont when it comes to wisdom, ESPN’s Sarah Spain objects:
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.
“Someone else” or a partner for life? In the case of the latter, the wife’s sacrifices don’t seem so terrible. In a partnership, the sacrifices might actually be rewarding, especially if she loves him and he loves her.
Spain’s rote caricature of the ’50s wife, “living to serve the career goals of someone else,” proves nothing goes without saying anymore. Of course wives are more than supporters of their husbands’ careers. Is an explanation even necessary?
By warning that McIlroy has “got to find the right wife, and beauty is not the answer,” [Player] 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.
Player actually does not imply Wozniacki’s beauty must be the draw. He implies beauty can overshadow wifely qualities, or lack thereof. Spain gives us a rundown of Wozniacki’s CV, as if—a big if—“spokeswoman” and “speaks eight languages” mattered at all to McIlroy in winnowing the field of eligible bachelorettes to one. These credentials impress employers, not boyfriends.
Of all people Spain, pictured left, should grasp the concept of a woman’s strengths beyond her resumé. How could Wozniacki’s beauty not have been the draw, at least at first, when we know, according to McIlroy’s ex, he “fancied” Wozniacki before he’d even met her?
Spain commits her gravest error when she writes, “[Wozniacki’s] understanding of the demands of a professional athlete might make her an ideal match.” If this were true, why do pop stars and movie stars so frequently fall out of love with each other? Having so much in common, traveling in the same elite circles, do they not make “an ideal match”? No. Understanding someone’s needs is one thing, but meeting them is quite another. Given the level of commitment their careers require of them, it’s likely neither McIlroy nor Wozniacki adequately meet the other’s needs. That’s a practical concern, one McIlroy would be wise to take account of.
The gist of Gary Player’s advice wasn’t to blame Wozniacki for distracting McIlroy. It wasn’t to criticize women for being more career-oriented than they used to be (more out of necessity than real desire). It was to challenge McIlroy to prioritize golf in his life, because he has the potential to become one of the all-time greats. That means it will be more than his wife making sacrifices; it will be him, too.