Rory McIlroy got his Open campaign off to an aggressive and successful start at Carnoustie to refute Butch Harmon’s criticism of the four-time major winner as a golfing “robot”.
Renowned golf coach Harmon, who has worked with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and currently tutors Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler, had criticised world No 8 McIlroy on the eve of the tournament.
“I would like to see him start playing golf and stop playing golf swing,” said Harmon on Wednesday in his role as a Sky Sports analyst at The Open. “He looks like a robot out there when I see him practice putting.
“Rory had this spell when he wasn’t putting or hitting the ball good and he got so wrapped up in how he was going to do it, he forgot how to do it.
“I think he is frustrated, because he hasn’t won one. He is not even 30. This is a young kid who is still one of the best players in the world. He needs to understand that. Forget about your brand and your endorsement contracts.
Forget about all that. Just go back to having fun playing golf. I still think he is one of the best in the world and he can be No 1 again if he just lets himself do it.”
McIlroy’s response was an opening 69, two under par and only three off the overnight lead held by American Kevin Kisner. The Irishman stuck to his gameplan of playing driver off the tee as many times as he could and, though he only found four of the 15 fairways, he insisted he would repeat his strategy in today’s second round.
As for Harmon’s comments, McIlroy said he would not be taking any notice.
“Look, I like Butch. Definitely, I would say I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum than someone that’s mechanical and someone that’s, you know, it’s easy to make comments when you don’t know what’s happening.
“I haven’t spoken to Butch in a long time. He doesn’t know what I’m working on in my swing. He doesn’t know what’s in my head, so it’s easy to make comments and easy to speculate, but unless you actually know what’s happening, I just really don’t take any notice of it.”
As for only a 26.7% success rate finding the fairway yesterday, which was anything but mechanical, McIlroy admitted:
“Yeah, didn’t see the fairway much, but as I said at the start of the week, it’s very playable from not in the fairway. As long as you don’t hit it in the fairway bunkers, you’re always going to have a shot at the green.
“That’s why I tried to stay as aggressive as I possibly could, even though I wasn’t hitting the driver maybe as well as I could, and I kept missing.
“There’s a lot of pins that were tucked away either on the left side of the green or the right side, so I was trying so hard to make sure that I was down one side of the fairway, like the ninth hole. I knew the pin was on the right. I was trying to hit it on the left side. I hit it a little too far left. You get away with it and you have an angle to the pin.
“You know, it wasn’t pretty off the tee, but I got it done, and I took advantage of some unfortunate bounces. I would have taken 69 at the start of the day.”