Sport Golf

Monday 16 September 2019

David Kelly: Patience, not power, should be Rory's aim at Carnoustie

McIlroy's desire to renew his swashbuckling youth is admirable but it's loaded with danger

Rory McIlroy signs autographs for fans at Carnoustie yesterday. Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty
Rory McIlroy signs autographs for fans at Carnoustie yesterday. Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty
David Kelly

David Kelly

The course and conditions will be different for the 147th staging of the British Open at Carnoustie but the challenges demanded of the golfer remain stubbornly unwavering.

As Arnold Palmer once said, the game is at once deceptively simple yet endlessly complicated. "A child can play it well and a grown man can never master it."

Many of the 156 may play well, at times, and yet only one can win the Claret Jug; and even then its holder will admit that from his opening tee-time to the victorious tea-time coronation on Sunday, his mastery may not have been utterly absolute.

That's because the peculiar demands of this Major - inextricably entwined with its imperial imprimatur as THE Open - require not merely as near to a mastery of the sport's constantly elusive perfection as possible but also the need to balance fearlessness with caution.

Which is why Rory McIlroy's latest publicised pre-tournament strategy - although it might seem to naturally suit a golfer intent on conquering his ongoing Major tournament demons - may not be entirely suitable to conquering the golf course upon which he seeks to do so.

As he waits patiently to see if the tinkering with his swing coach Michael Bannon and putting guru Brad Faxon bear fruit, Ireland's leading contender for the grand prize appears rather less willing to make allowances for the mechanics of his most important tool. His mind.

Drought

It is perhaps understandable that as his drought threatens to extend to a 14th Major, he should seek to revisit the carefree Rory McIlroy of relative youth, rather than the persona that has become increasingly embattled by his failure to add to his already distinguished haul.

No better place than Carnoustie, to which he returns for the first time since the tousle-haired, teenaged tornado whipped up a storm 11 years ago, posting the only bogey-free opening round - one better than a certain Tiger Woods.

And so it is that McIlroy has boldly declared that his quest to avoid the troubles that have plagued him in recent times will be to fly the ball high and true in order to avoid them.

In truth, he is not alone. The big hitters will know that, although temperatures have dipped considerably, so have the wind speeds; with even the rough charred, the baked, bare and broad fairways can take care of the rest, as some of this week's astounding numbers from the practice rounds have illustrated.

Even Pádraig Harrington booming the ball some 457 yards to drive the 18th, which may have saved him some grief in '07, lessened the theatre for the rest of us. If only it were so simple.

Try that trick on the 17th and, though you may at first avoid the famous Barry Burn, that snaking trail of watery peril which envelops the course, you may not be so lucky the second time as the little white ball hops merrily along the yellowed fairways which are running quicker than some greens.

Which, perhaps, is why so many are seeking to drive them. Once this week, McIlroy drove all but two holes; other contenders limited themselves to using the big stick just twice. Each to their own and all that.

The notorious 16th may yet dampen much ardour.

For McIlroy, it seems, nothing seems to illustrate a return to the freedom of yore than the unabashed feeling of throwing caution to the wind. Or, in this week's case, the gentle breeze.

In contrast to the US Open when, ironically, a change in wind direction blew him off a course that he had seemed to plan with military precision, this week has revealed a change of attitude, even amidst the ongoing adjustments to the technical elements of his game.

It is long overdue for the Holywood maestro to remind the world that his ability to win at the highest level will not abandon him for another year of an extended Major slump.

Fail to win this week or at the US PGA and it will be four years without a Major. Contrast that to the 2011-2015 period when he won all of his current total of four Majors. At this level, he has gotten worse with age, not better.

He remains top of the list of Major winners post-Tiger but the competition has now overtaken him.

True, he remains a perennial contender - eight top 10s (four top fives) - and already this season he was in with a real chance of slipping on another green jacket.

That would have competed the career Slam; Jordan Spieth, who hadn't even won one Major in 2014, could get there first at the PGA.

And so McIlroy has sought to re-invest in the youthful, swaggering swing which propelled him so forcefully upon the world stage from 2010 and 2011 onwards.

McIlroy's desire to renew his swashbuckling youth is paved with good intentions but also loaded with obvious danger on this track, particularly if his occasional problems from the tee recur.

The mental challenge, as much as physical, will be crucial.

Would he then have the required mature intelligence to row back and navigate a different route, as Tiger Woods did on a similarly fiery course in 2006 when he only used his driver once at Royal Liverpool? Discipline, not merely driving, is key. Patience more than brute power.

His new putting stroke, much more freer as he re-acquaints himself with his winning Arnold Palmer Invitational blade, should allow his natural aggression to outweigh his recent problems with aligning too far left, especially on slower greens.

It may be more Carn-easy than Carn-nasty but this Open will still produce a proven Major winner. It's time McIlroy reminded everyone - most of all himself - that he is still one of them.

Irish Independent

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