JOHN MCHENRY: Rory McIlroy must get outside his settled habits

Tour players can be a curious bunch. Most are reserved, their character moulded by the endless hours spent alone on the range. Inwardly content, they have no need to seek out the social refuge of others for they are in control of their own destiny.

For the most part, their lives can be divided into two distinct periods — when they’re competing and when they’re not. And the better the player you are, the more you control your own schedule.

On tour, your best friend is probably your caddie. He is the man closest to you. He knows your ups and downs and it is his responsibility to help you be the best competitor you can be week in and week out.

That said, the level of influence can vary from player to player. For example, Jim “Bones” McKay has been Phil Mickelson’s caddie from the word go, so it is fair to say that he knows Phil’s every nuance and his game’s idiosyncrasies, so its hardly surprising then to see Phil including him in most of his shot decisions. However, that level of inclusion will vary from player to player.

Not many of you will know of Mr. Jefferson Boone Aiken Knox or Jeff Knox as he is not a competitor this week — nor in fact is he even a professional golfer but he is a person that everyone competing this week will know or have heard about.

Why? Because since 2003, Jeff Knox, who is an Augusta National member, has served as a non-competing marker in the Masters, called upon only when there are an odd number of players in the field after the cut, this being the sixth consecutive year that has happened.

As the official “marker” his job is to keep score for the Masters participant, who is either last or tied for last place after 36 holes, and provide company for him. His name is not listed on the pairing sheet, his name is not on the back of his caddie’s jumpsuit, and his score is not on the leaderboards – but he is one hell of a golfer holding the members’ scoring record of 61,shot in a non-tournament round in 2003.

Given that he knows every blade of grass on a tricky Augusta, something which is far more important more than any other course the players play on tour, it is understandable then that his advice, especially his knowledge of the greens, has been regularly sought by many of the leading lights like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and our own Rory McIlroy.

So with all of this information available, the question must now be asked – why doesn’t Rory, who needs to win at Augusta in order to win a career “Grand Slam”, go one step further by abandoning his close relationship with his caddie JP Fitzgerald, for one tournament replacing him instead with a golfing mind that is wise enough to convey all of Augusta’s secrets in order to give himself the best possible opportunity to achieve his career goal?

Commonsense says this is a no-brainer but is McIlroy prepared to invest enough time in another relationship in order to fulfil his dreams?

Having spent the past week watching McIlroy’s game, I have no doubt but that he is capable of winning a Masters but the one-dimensional manner he goes about playing Augusta suggests to me that a victory at Augusta is only likely to come from a week where he is flawless from tee to green — and has the best putting week of his life.

He must be bold. He must change his ways and take stock of a few home truths! His great rival Jordan Spieth’s putting prowess and more especially his mental strength and game dexterity means he doesn’t have to be perfect, yet still can put himself into the position to win or remain competitive more often than not.

What we do know is that time passes very quickly and the history books are filled with greats like Sam Snead, Phil Mickelson and Tom Watson to name a few who have never reached the holy grail of being a “Grand Slam” winner.

It will be interesting to watch whether McIlroy is willing to do whatever it takes to reach his goal or will he just stay in his comfort zone. I certainly know what advice I would give him.

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