Rory McIlroy returns to his real true love – winning
TOM WATSON said at Hoylake yesterday that great golfers draw strength from their setbacks and failures.
If that is truly the case, then golf should prepare itself for a spell of Herculean domination by newly crowned Open champion Rory McIlroy, given the trials and torment that the 25-year-old has encountered over the past 19 months.
McIlroy's comprehensive victory at Royal Liverpool – which he dedicated to his parents – should signal the beginning of a new chapter in a career which has taken the Holywood, Co Down, native to some pretty dark places since the turn of 2013.
He has endured more drama and strife, fireworks and flaps, in that time than many of us will encounter in our lifetime.
Judging by the patience and will McIlroy showed over four days here, he has come out the other side a more powerful person.
After soaring to the top of the world on the back of his second Major championship triumph at the 2012 US PGA on Kiawah Island, McIlroy appeared utterly invincible over the final four months of that momentous season.
With tennis star Caroline Wozniacki on his arm, a massive five-year, $20m (€15m) per annum endorsement deal with Nike in his pocket and a future as Ireland’s first sporting billionaire assured, that Christmas it felt as if golf had found its new Tiger and he hailed from Co Down.
McIlroy eagerly took on the role and responsibility of being golf’s No 1 several weeks later as he publicly endorsed Paul McGinley’s candidacy for the Ryder Cup captaincy, effectively ensuring the Dubliner got it.
He stood up and counted for McGinley in Abu Dhabi amid spectacular pyrotechnics at the official launch of his Nike deal… yet it soon became clear that McIlroy, in taking a well-earned break over the winter, had left himself with considerable work to do to bed in his new equipment.
A lengthy struggle to find a driver he could hit with confidence and consistency left McIlroy without his principal weapon and source of much of his mojo. He missed the cut in Abu Dhabi, fell to Shane Lowry at the first hurdle of the match play in Tucson and fled the course on Friday after nine holes of the Honda Classic.
Off the golf course, he signed a renewal of his management contract with Dublin firm Horizon on March 29, told them he was leaving before the end of April and set up his own company, Rory McIlroy Inc, the following month.
McIlroy sued Horizon and it took legal action against him. The two cases are being dealt with by the Commercial Court in Dublin. A trial date has been set for next January, with the latest review of proceedings scheduled for the Four Courts this afternoon.
As the course of true love rarely runs smooth, little weight was given to whispers that issues in his private life may have had a bearing on his abject performance at last year’s Open. McIlroy missed the cut at Muirfield.
The words “brain dead” he used to describe an incident at 15 on the Thursday, where he putted through the green into a back bunker, also seemed to fit his overall display over two black days that probably represent the nadir of his professional career.
Legendary South African Gary Player would suggest that McIlroy’s full focus might not have been on his game, saying: “When you’re in love as a young man, naturally golf seems to take second place for a while. It’s
natural. Love is still the greatest thing that ever happens in our lives.
“But the thing is, for a man like Rory with talent galore, he’s got to make sure he has a woman like I’ve got, who has been married (to me) for 56 years, that has only encouraged me to do well and made sacrifices.
“He’s got to be intelligent and find the right wife. If he finds the right wife, if he practices and if he’s dedicated, he could be the man.”
Since Wozniacki had been at his side during his march to the summit of golf in 2012, to point the finger in the Dane’s direction seemed unfair.
One thing is certain, McIlroy’s season began to turn for the better when Nike furnished him with a new, pear-shaped Covert around the time of the Open, which allowed him hit the ball with impunity at full throttle.
“When you're swinging a driver at 120mph, you're not going to hit it out of the centre every time – or at least I'm not,” he explained.
“With this new face, I know that if I hit one off centre it's not going to get away from me.
“My ball flight has also tightened up a bit, which makes you more confident, so you can go after it a little more. That's been big for me, just having that confidence to go after it a little more and know that even if I don't put a good swing on it, it's still going to go in that general direction.”
As he had to great effect exactly 12 months earlier, McIlroy’s venerable putting coach Dave Stockton reminded him at Firestone to count his blessings; absorb any adversity he encountered with straight not slumped shoulders and not give
succour to opponents by wearing his heartbreak on his sleeve.
As optimism coursed from that new driver into the rest of his game, McIlroy grew stronger as the year progressed. He finally secured a morale-boosting victory over Masters champ and national hero Adam Scott with a birdie on the final hole of the Aussie Open in Sydney.
The headlines were dominated in the New Year by the news from Sydney after McIlroy popped the question to Wozniacki.
There was not as much bliss from his golf, however, as it became clear through the spring that work was still needed, especially on his short game, before McIlroy would once again be capable of scaling former heights.
Still, evidence that progress was being made came at Wenworth as McIlroy came from seven behind on Sunday to win the BMW PGA Championship in flying style. Incredibly, this came just five days after he told the world the engagement was off.
Explaining that he had second thoughts after wedding invitations for November 8 were posted, McIlroy rededicated himself to his golf.
As he threw himself headlong into practice, he found: “I’m just enjoying it and really finding my love for the game again.”
Despite some stellar play, including a first round 63 at Memorial and 64 on Thursday at the Scottish Open, an annoying penchant for putting together bad holes in clusters, especially on Friday, ensured that love would go unrequited.
Until Hoylake – when McIlroy found consistency to match the resolve he’d showed even in adversity through the spring, qualities that, when wedded to his undoubted class, yielded the Claret Jug and re-established the Northern Irishman as one of the greatest players of his or any generation.
The first thing McIlroy did when he clinched the title was hug his mother Rosie. Moments later he embraced father Gerry.
“My mum hasn’t been at the previous two major wins,” he added. “It was just my dad. And it was just great to see her on the back of the 18th there and how much it meant to her. I was trying not to cry at the time because she was bawling her eyes out. The support of my parents has been incredible. They’re the best people in the world.”