Sport Golf

Saturday 25 November 2017

Getting inside the mind of McIlroy

Karl MacGinty

IN recent months, Rory McIlroy gave president Barack Obama swing tips during a state banquet at the White House. He hob-knobbed with Queen Elizabeth at Newbury races.

He was invited on court at a packed Madison Square Garden to score a playful point against Maria Sharapova.

And he sipped hot chocolate with his girlfriend at Café de Paris in Monaco.

Tonight he'll throw the ceremonial opening pitch at the Major League Baseball game between the San Francisco Giants and Houston Astros. Everyone in the crowd will be given a bobble-head McIlroy doll in Giants colours to mark 'Irish Heritage Night' and his defence of the US Open title at Olympic this week.

Since ringing in the New Year in Thailand, McIlroy and tennis ace Caroline Wozniacki have enjoyed each other's company in Dubai and Miami, New York and Copenhagen, Paris and Rome. Good luck to them!

McIlroy appeared to have it all sussed as he surged to world No 1 in March by holding off a Sunday charge by Tiger Woods at PGA National to win the Honda Classic.

At 22, he was one of just 16 golfers to reach the top of the world, and Woods alone had been younger. Tiger was so consumed by the pursuit of excellence, he went from no-life to low-life in a self-destructive spiral, thankfully from which he has recovered. Yet McIlroy clearly has found happiness and fulfilment outside the fairway ropes.

"I'm trying to find the perfect balance between golf and having a normal life," he said in May. "I have a lot more going on in my life than golf. Caroline and I both travel a lot and it's important we find time to do the things we want to do."

Yet after an abject second-round 79 on Friday at the recent BMW PGA, McIlroy admitted with startling honesty he'd taken his "eye of the ball", sparking a crisis as significant as his meltdown at the 2011 US Masters.

Successive missed cuts at Sawgrass, Wentworth and Memorial were not as wounding as the beating he took that Sunday at Augusta, while the odds are against McIlroy successfully holding onto his US Open crown on a course which doesn't appear to suit him.

Nonetheless, he learned a couple of important lessons, notably, that sustaining elite status in world golf is forever a high-maintenance business, regardless of a player's talent.

Thirteen top-five finishes, including three victories, in 14 outings from last autumn's European Masters to the Cadillac WGC in March suggested that McIlroy had achieved a performance level consistently high enough to allow his schedule be trimmed to the desired 23 or fewer tournaments annually.

For all the talk about McIlroy's light schedule in 2012, he has actually competed in one more event than Luke Donald. However, England's world No 1 has performed at a consistently higher standard and, having missed no cuts, has more competitive rounds.

Despite the rather frivolous nature of the new social media, Twitter can be as good as a 'Cockpit Voice Recorder' in helping determine where Rory went awry. McIlroy's own tweets suggest the first seven weeks of his season were exemplary. His elevation to world No 1 came on the back of two weeks of intense 'pre-season training' in Dubai, followed by five tournaments in seven weeks up to Doral.

At that point, McIlroy tweeted he had 'three weeks off' before the Masters. Following a poor performance over the weekend at Augusta, he took another break -- revealing on April 24 he had a "great first day back practising after two weeks off".

important

A member of McIlroy's management team was quoted at Quail Hollow as saying: "Rory told me 'do you know, I actually forgot I was a golfer' (during that fortnight). Other players struggle to do that. Rory can just switch off. At his age it's important he gets away from the game."

It seemed like a virtue as McIlroy took winner Rickie Fowler to a play-off in Charlotte, papering over any cracks in his game. After another missed weekend at The Players, McIlroy visited Rome for a few days, followed by a spell in Monaco.

The panic button was pushed after Wentworth, McIlroy throwing himself headlong into practice and adding Memphis to his schedule, where, mercifully, his confidence-sapping string of missed cuts ended last Friday.

Some rushed to blame McIlroy's recent slump on his relationship with Wozniacki, but they were just as much an item in February and March, when he reached the top of the world.

By his own admission, McIlroy's practice and playing schedule went out of kilter because of complacency.

And as Shakespeare suggested, he's better to have loved and briefly lost his swing ...

Irish Independent

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