One man’s destiny is another man’s dream and for McIlroy this US Open represented a solid if unspectacular tournament full of missed opportunities and what ifs.
While Kaymer’s sole mission was to finish the job and secure his second Major championship, McIlroy’s sole focus now is to address the most obvious question: how can he become a more competitive player on fast, bouncy golf courses, which are borderline unplayable and where strategy and lady luck are at times equals?
What we already know in abundance about McIlroy is that he is one of the most gifted golfers on the planet. He has length, accuracy, fluency and most importantly a winning temperament for the big occasions, as was proved by the margins of his two Major championship victories to date, but those were achieved on soft courses where his length was a potent weapon and the bouncing ball was nullified.
Was he lucky then? No, not a bit. There was nothing fluky about his wins. He was consistently the best player, playing the best shots in the conditions that the course presented that week.
That said, each year McIlroy will face into two Majors —the US Open and the British Open — which given fair conditions will produce golf courses and conditions specifically designed to frustrate the player. Those conditions could come in the form of especially firm and bouncy courses where you don’t have control of the ball, courses where a perfectly struck shot could end up some 20-30 yards away from where you tried to hit it.
This lack of control is especially true for links courses where one day you might hit a drive and a three-wood to a hole only to play the same hole the next day with a drive and a sand wedge.
Distances are somewhat redundant because how can you predict the bounce and roll of a ball? At times, you cannot be in control, so the challenge is in fact your imagination, in trying to figure it out and most importantly in accepting the luck of the bounce.
For someone who prefers to play the ball through the air, McIlroy may never like how luck plays such an important part in the game at times. By his own admission, he is still an unproven golfer on hard, bouncy turf but that should be no obstacle to someone as talented as him.
To become more effective, it will require greater flexibility in his game plan and a change in his mind-set. McIlroy has to accept the lucky or unlucky bounce of the ball is a fundamental part of his sport and especially the Major championships. Once he accepts this, his challenge will become more enjoyable and probably more rewarding.
McIlroy must remember too that he is no stranger to links golf and somewhere in a closet in his mind he already has a bank of shots mastered in his creative youth at a time when he couldn’t hit the ball prodigious distances. Back then he looked at a golf course very differently, mastering the challenge with imagination rather than brawn.
As his game progresses, McIlroy would be well advised to take a look at who has won multiple Majors. It is great to see he has already sought and taken advice from Jack Nicklaus and Dave Stockton but he should also remember that all the great champions have their own individual game and swing idiosyncrasies. None have had a flawless game yet all had the imagination; the self-belief and all were fuelled with an insatiable desire to keep learning and to win.