Rory McIlroy doesn’t necessarily need a swing coach to help him end his seven-year Major drought, but a life coach to steer him through the choppy waters faced by every megastar as business interests and family life rob him of the steely focus required to beat all comers.
At least that’s the view of Sky Sports golf expert Paul McGinley, who sees McIlroy lacking the skills to compartmentalise golf properly and compete with ultra-dedicated younger guns such as Bryson DeChambeau, McGinley’s top pick for Masters glory this week.
Needing ‘only’ the Masters to become just the sixth player to complete the career Grand Slam, McIlroy arrives in Augusta with new coach Pete Cowen, hoping to throw off the weight of expectation once again and get off to a decent start in a Major.
After all, he’s 28-over for opening rounds of Majors since he last won one in 2014 and 64-under from Friday to Sunday.
Nobody is guaranteed a Masters green jacket, as Greg Norman, Tom Weiskopf and Ernie Els can attest. But while he is still a month removed from his 32nd birthday, the pressure is only growing for the greatest player ever to emerge from these shores, and McGinley has some theories on what he needs to do.
“I wouldn’t say he’s running out of time,” McGinley said from Augusta this week. “But one of the biggest challenges Rory has, and I know he’s going down the road of technique at the moment, is something I can speak about from experience as I went through it, and a lot of my friends went through it. Life gets in the way.
“His life is a very complex one, and he’s a far, far bigger star than I ever was. Your focus doesn’t remain the same as you get older. You marry, become a father, you have business interests.
You don’t have the pure, driven ambition of your 20s. Certainly, when you look at Bryson, nothing is in his way, no complications except golf.
“I spoke to Nicklaus about this a few years back on Sky. He said it’s about compartmentalising — Tiger used that word a lot too — it’s about compartmentalising all the different aspects of your life.
“That’s a big, big challenge for Rory at the moment. As much as he’s going down the road of technique with Pete, I think this recognition of where he is in his life, and his career, that has to be addressed as well.”
McGinley knows McIlroy well, having captained him in the 2014 Ryder Cup. But when it comes to dealing with the monumental pressure to complete the career Grand Slam, he reckons the Holywood star needs psychological help.
“Only five players have won the Grand Slam in the history of the game, and he’d be joining what is an incredibly elite company if he goes on to win the Masters and completes the Grand Slam, and that’s mentally a massive, massive change.
“I don’t know if he’s getting any help to get over the line with that, that’s not just something you turn up and win; it takes a huge monumental effort mentally to get over the line with that.
“The other guys who won it all won the Grand Slam, they only took three times to complete it, so they did it quite quickly, whereas Rory, I think this is his seventh time now trying to complete the Grand Slam and it gets tougher, it doesn’t get easier.
“It’s like a guy like Lee Westwood trying to win his first major, it gets tougher as the years go by. Greg Norman trying to win the Masters around here, it got tougher as the years went by, not easier.
“And they’re the big hurdles that Rory faces and because we all talk about him being as talented as he is, that brings a lot of expectation on his shoulders and every major he goes in, there’s an expectation on his shoulders, and he feels it, I really do think he feels the pressure, the external expectation and he feels it internally.
That is another big hurdle that Rory has to jump and has to have a strategy around.
The jury is out on Cowen as the solution to McIlroy’s woes. But McGinley simply hopes the Yorkshireman keeps it simple for one of the game’s natural talents.
“I’m a great believer in simplicity and clarity and there’s two types of players, you have the technical types — the Justin Roses, the Bryson DeChambeaus, the real technicians of the game — and then you have the creative artists, the Freddie Couples, the Rory McIlroys.
“So the big thing with Pete, who has a great pedigree with the players that he’s coached, it’s to coach in a very simple and clear way.
“It’s not rocket science for Rory. If it becomes rocket science it becomes even more muddled in his head and he’s going to play worse, so the key is one or two little tweaks that are going to give him that sense of the club head back again and then, from there, it’s just the confidence, and we know Rory more than probably anybody in the game can get confident very quickly, and from there it’s about igniting.”
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