independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Rachel Wyse: Forget Abu Dhabi blip –Rory switch will soon bear fruit

Despite missing the cut in Abu Dhabi, it's fair to say Rory McIlroy has had worse weeks. He only struck his first competitive shot of 2013 on Thursday, but the prospect of him dominating golf continues to move closer to a reality.

On Monday, Nike launched him into a stratosphere inhabited only by sports superstars.

As the announcement of Europe's 2014 Ryder Cup captain grew closer, McIlroy's support for Paul McGinley grew louder. We learned on Tuesday that McGinley had landed the role. The significance of McIlroy's support was clearly massive.

On the course, McIlroy has few rivals. Off the course, the more we see and know of golf's greatest talent, the more impressive he becomes.

He appears to be a level-headed individual and, despite his soaring profile, his feet remain firmly on the ground.

His parents obviously continue to exert a huge influence over his life, with his dad a regular travelling companion to tournaments.

McIlroy often speaks of the sacrifices his parents made when he was a child, enabling him to pursue his ambitions on the golf course.

In a world where professional sports people all too often become affected by their newly discovered wealth, McIlroy's sense of gratitude and humble appreciation is admirable.

You sense that no matter where he goes or what he achieves, he will never forget his roots.

Carefree

On occasions, especially through his relationship with tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, we have seen glimpses of a fun-loving nature you would expect of any carefree 23-year-old. A superstar he may be, but he's a superstar with whom kids can identify.

He displays an openness, a confidence, a certainty in his character that suggest his private life will never encounter the problems that have plagued some sporting superstars.

He doesn't seem to carry the same weight on his shoulders or suffer the pressure of expectation in a way Tiger Woods did in his early years. If he does, it sits a lot easier with the young Irishman.

There appears contentment around McIlroy, comfortable in his persona and unaffected by the circus that surrounds the world's No 1 golfer.

Perhaps it was such contentment that enabled him to deal so impressively with his final-round meltdown at Augusta in 2011. For him, it was bad round of golf, nothing more. He addressed it for what it was and moved on.

McIlroy has clearly surrounded himself with the right people. His advisors were well chosen. Their work in shaping his professional career to date has resembled project management of the highest order.

Right now their project is destined to dominate the game for many years.

No question, McIlroy is prime time marketing material, a compliment to not only his playing abilities, but his character and the values instilled by his family.

The work of his backroom team continues to ensure that opportunities afforded to the player have been maximised without hindering or over-fazing their player.

Speaking at the Nike press conference, McIlroy stated that the contract was not about money, but about playing and achieving on the golf course. Priorities may have been a little different without the distinguished work of his entourage.

Some people questioned his decision to leave Chubby Chandler's stable in 2011.

Very few are questioning it now. It is testament to McIlroy's self-assurance.

The fact that he continues to make the right choices is no accident – I'm convinced that the initial teething trouble with his new Nike clubs will be ironed out and it will prove to be the right choice – and you cannot but have huge respect for someone of his public profile with such willingness to openly follow his convictions.

We saw such convictions these past weeks when he strongly stated that McGinley was deserving of his opportunity to captain the European team at Gleneagles. The case he presented in support of McGinley was logical, well articulated and very passionate.

McGinley appreciated such loyalty. Maybe being Irish played its part, but McIlroy gives the impression he is a man of conviction, irrespective of his nationality. It's impressive.

Following his move to Nike, he finds himself in unfamiliar territory using unfamiliar equipment.

The evidence of Abu Dhabi suggests that the challenge of using new clubs could initially hinder his charge to further golfing greatness. Nick Faldo called the decision to change manufacturers as 'dangerous'.

But it will take more than one bad tournament to draw a conclusion.

Considering McIlroy's drive and determination to achieve, the risk of using Nike clubs will have been well calculated and deemed acceptable. Do not be surprised to see him improve further – eventually – with his new equipment.

How will he react to sharing the space of Tiger Woods? Woods has been Nike's No 1 golfer for many years – does this situation still pertain?

Status

The status of Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke within Chandler's management stable was supposedly one of the reasons for McIlroy moving elsewhere.

Could the same issues arise within Nike? Away from the course it appears that the friendship between Woods and McIlroy continues to develop, helped by his decision to establish a permanent home in Florida.

Should the two players find themselves going head-to-head coming down the stretch on the final day of major tournaments, the dynamic of their relationship may just change. Needless to say, it would be fascinating to watch.

Right now McIlroy seems at ease. Comfortable with what he is doing, unfazed by everyone's expectations.

His new sponsor challenges people to 'Just do it'.

I suspect McIlroy will not disappoint.

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