Painful break-up will not stop Rory
McIlroy determined to rediscover top form after 'bad year' ended in heartache of split with Holly
Published 20/01/2011 | 05:00
IT doesn't matter how many millions you have in the bank, how many high-performance cars sit in your garage or how many people on this planet would give their eye-teeth for your golf swing.
Breaking up is still hard to do. So it hardly was surprising when Rory McIlroy admitted in Abu Dhabi yesterday that breaking up with his girlfriend of six years, Holly Sweeney, in the run-up to Christmas was the toughest decision he's had to make in his personal life.
Being questioned about it doesn't help -- yet when you're aged 21 and regarded as one of the hottest prospects in the world of professional sport, the boundaries between personal privacy and public interest can become blurred.
For example, McIlroy last November cited his desire to spend more time at home in Northern Ireland with family, friends and Holly, who is studying for a degree in Sports Technology at the University of Ulster, among the reasons why he decided not to renew his PGA Tour card in the US in 2011.
Meanwhile, Sergio Garcia admitted that the collapse of his relationship with Greg Norman's daughter Morgan had a seriously detrimental effect on his form in the early months of 2009.
For the record, McIlroy says his decision not to take out US Tour membership this year will not be affected by the break-up, while the young Ulsterman certainly has been spared the bitter pangs of remorse felt by Garcia.
"I don't really want to go into a lot of detail, but me and Holly talk every day," McIlroy said yesterday on the eve of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, his first event of 2011. "We still get on great. I think we both understand what we want and that's basically what it is."
Asked if the life of a professional golfer sometimes requires them to be selfish, McIlroy conceded: "It can be, yeah. It is what it is. We're still friends."
"Yeah, definitely," he replied to the suggestion that it had been one of the toughest decisions in his life. "I didn't have a great couple of weeks before Christmas, but you've got to do what's right for yourself. At this time of my life, I just want to try and...I want to put this time into my golf and that's it."
The Ulsterman's agent and mentor at International Sports Management, Chubby Chandler, said: "I think Rory just found the life he was leading made it very difficult to maintain a relationship. At his age it's all an adventure."
Given his talent, fame and fortune -- 'Golf Digest' estimated McIlroy's earnings from golf at $8.2m last year -- one is unlikely to come across this youngster in the lonely hearts columns any time soon. Though McIlroy and his closest friend Graeme McDowell must now be viewed as arch-rivals for the 'Most Eligible Bachelor' title on Tour, their real heart's desire is to win at golf's Major championships.
It's a measure of McIlroy's remarkable maturity that he was not prepared to face some of the harsh sporting realities of his last 12 months on the golf course and come to a tough conclusion.
Though he registered a spectacular first victory on the US Tour at Quail Hollow, watched his best mate run off with the US Open title and made his Ryder Cup debut in a wild whirl of excitement at Celtic Manor, McIlroy still regards 2010 as "a bad year, very disappointing".
"I expect more of myself," said the youngster, who plainly is not going to settle for second best -- or, for that matter, a couple of impressive third-place finishes in the final two Majors of last season. "I felt I was better than that. I felt I played well enough in tournaments to win and I didn't. I needed to find out why, so I sat down with Chubby, my caddie JP Fitzgerald and my coach Michael Bannon early in December.
"We sort of came to the conclusion that I'm not winning as many tournaments as I should be because my strategy sometimes isn't the best on the golf course and I'm working on it."
Put simply, McIlroy believes he must control the urge to engage in all-out attack and box a little more cleverly, especially on par-fives.
"In 2009 I ranked fourth in the PGA Tour's 'birdie or better' category on par- five holes, yet last year I was 154th, which wasn't good enough," he said.
"I'm long enough and good enough a ball-striker to hit the par-fives in two and consistently make birdie. Yet sometimes I was trying to be too aggressive and instead of hitting into the middle of the green and take a four, I was trying to make threes; hit my ball into difficult positions and failed to get up and down, making a five which really felt like a bogey."
Yet McIlroy's ambition will not be tempered, especially when he can rely on those nearest and dearest to him in golf, World No 4 McDowell and No 1 Lee Westwood, for inspiration. "Rory's very, very close to Graeme, they are kindred spirits, while he and Lee have more of a manufactured relationship because of us," said ISM chief Chandler, "yet they both do their job fantastically and are great examples for him to follow."
Chandler insists he's never seen McIlroy so fit, fresh and highly motivated as he is now and the youngster concurs. "I feel really good about this year because I don't feel as if I have to change anything," he said. "I feel if I opt for a little bit of a different strategy on the golf course, that's all it will take."
McDowell's best friend is once again ready to become his greatest rival.
Abu Dhabi Championship,
Live, Sky Sports 1, 6.0 & 10.0