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Rubenstein: McIlroy has an artist’s flair for golf

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland

Stephen Hindley/AP

On Sunday Nov. 25th, only a few hours after Rory McIlroy birdied the last five holes in Dubai to win the European Tour's last tournament of the season, I found myself at the Art Gallery of Ontario. I was doing one of my favourite things, which I call "freelance wandering," no particular destination in mind, or, in this case, no particular exhibitions to see. I'd already seen the marvelous exhibition joining Diego Rivera's and Frida Kahlo's work. Now it was time to, well, freely wander.

I happened upon a painting by the Canadian artist Rita Letendre. I didn't know her work. The painting's energy and movement stopped me in my wandering tracks, and my mind went to McIlroy's energy as expressed in his swing. I thought of its fluidity. Only a golfer or a golf writer could relate a painting from an artist he didn't know to the swing. So be it.

A few minutes later I sat down in the café, opened my iPad, and read about Letendre. She was born in Drummondville, Quebec in 1928, moved to Montreal in 1941, and has had a distinguished career with many exhibitions of her work. Letendre now lives in Toronto. She was awarded the 2010 Governor's General Award in Visual Arts. Gallery Gevik in Toronto represents her; you can see some of her work here . Study her 1998 painting Hurl Into Space. It moves and it flows and it's full of energy.

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So does McIlroy's swing. Is there a more fluid swing? He won five times this year, including the PGA Championship, by eight shots. He was the leading money-winner on both the PGA and European Tours. McIlroy is only 23, he's now won two majors (he took the 2011 U.S. Open by eight shots), and he's the undisputed champion golfer of the world. McIlroy is the number-one ranked player and the only question now is whether he will be able to maintain and even improve on his form and record when he moves from Titleist to Nike clubs. He's about to sign a mega-contract with Nike, reportedly for $250-million over 10 years.

That's all business, though. We're looking at art here. The ultimate and true art of the game is to control the flight of the ball, to put it where one wants. McIlroy did that in Dubai when he had to. He'd fallen a couple of shots out of the lead in the middle of the back nine on Sunday, but then he sailed to his winning finish. His 5-iron on the par-three 17th to within a few feet of the hole that was cut in a narrow area of the green was, well, a thing of beauty, a work of art. I watched him finish to win by two shots over Justin Rose, and then went to the Art Gallery of Ontario, where I encountered Letendre's work.

I came across this in an article that Letendre, an abstract artist of light, power and movement, wrote: "To be good, a line has to have the ease and simplicity of movement of a ripe apple falling from the tree."

Her observation struck me and has stuck with me. That's McIlroy's swing, not to get pretentious about the analogy. There's no hesitation in his move. He swings the club to the top and then pours through the ball. His swing has "the ease and simplicity of movement of a ripe apple falling from the tree." His club falls from the top of his swing through the air on a pure line through the ball.

Michael Bannon has worked with McIlroy since the world number one was eight years old. Bannon is with McIlroy full-time now, having left his role as instructor at the Bangor Golf Club in Northern Ireland. His job is to make sure McIlroy doesn't get too technical with his swing. The idea is that he maintains the flow and motion in his swing.

I have no idea whether Rita Letendre has any interest in sports or, specifically, in golf. But after declaring that a line in painting must express the freedom of a ripe apple falling from the tree, she added, "This applies not only to line but also to movement in a painting, flow of movement by a great dancer, music, and sculpture."

Her statement could also read that it applies to flow of movement by a great golfer. By McIlroy, to be precise. And when he's in full flow, and he has been for a while, he is just that, precise. Rory McIlroy is an artist, a golfing artist, and a joy to watch.

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RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein

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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association's first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada's Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round's on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf's Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at rube@sympatico.ca . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein

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