As Rory McIlroy walked to the tenth tee box yesterday, bidding to win his second major championship in as many years, he could have been forgiven for offering two fingers at many of the journalists (myself included) who would have openly questioned his commitment to the game over the past number of months.
He has a right to be frustrated by all the questioning, of course, but he’d better get used to it — that comes with the territory — especially if you are the pro game’s greatest emerging talent coming off a sensational year.
For those of us who were swept away in awe by his sheer talent and his burgeoning sense of theatre, we could have been excused for daring to think that finally we had a youthful and exuberant Irishman capable of rivalling and even regularly beating the great Tiger Woods on golf’s greatest stage, the Major Championships.
However, in our rush to crown Rory, we forgot he was still a very young man determined to charter his own course in life. He has made many unforced errors along the way this year, most notably during his preparation for the Masters this year. For someone like Rory, who has been a stranger to golfing adversity for most of his career, this year has provided a steep learning curve.
In this regard, he should not be compared with Tiger Woods either, whose sole focus during the early part of his career was on golf alone. Rory seems to want to enjoy the fruits of his labour and the status it brings with it, but don’t for once think that he lacks Woods’s killer instinct on the golf course. Experience counts in everything, including life, and McIlroy has proven himself a fast learner.
For someone as young as McIlroy, change is part of his constantly evolving life. Over time his career will be judged on how he handles that change, struggles and all. Much of it is still relatively new to him, such as his off course media and sponsors’ commitments, but there are signs Rory is slowly finding the right balance and that he is happy within himself.
From my own perspective, I am also greatly encouraged by the fact the obvious frustrations of the past number of months have not led to any panic within Camp McIlroy, resulting in changes to his management team or his coaching personnel.
That suggests a man comfortable within his own skin, someone who accepts the up and down nature of the professional game. McIlroy was honest enough to admit at Wentworth this year that he had taken his eye off the ball, but those who think he has lost any of his desire for the game (as has been evidenced this past week) are clearly way off the mark.
Throughout yesterday’s final round — or at least until my deadlines allowed — McIlroy was demonstrating the same swagger he showed during his US Open victory last year. A recent visit to his putting coach Dave Stockton had been hugely beneficial and, more importantly, he was walking around with a smile on his face.
Confidence in golf is everything and given that the conditions at Kiawah yesterday were ideally suited to his aggressive golf game, he was perfectly positioned to win his second major championship. Refreshingly, recent experiences would have taught him that nothing, especially a Major Championship, would have been handed to him on a plate. He would have to earn his victory. Given his indifferent year, would he have wanted it any other way? Journalists beware!
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