Monday 22 July 2019

Rory McIlroy turns his back on Twitter following split and enlists help of Jack Nicklaus

Rory McIlroy speaks during a news conference ahead of tomorrow's first round of the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Reuters/Mike Segar
Rory McIlroy speaks during a news conference ahead of tomorrow's first round of the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Reuters/Mike Segar

Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy has turned his back on social media and enlisted the help of Jack Nicklaus as he aims to win two of the year's remaining major championships.

McIlroy switched off his phone and even gave away his laptop to cope with the aftermath of his split from fiancee Caroline Wozniacki last month, an approach which paid instant dividends as he won the BMW PGA Championship just four days later.

The former world number one's phone will remain silent during this week's US Open and his Twitter account will be less active for the "foreseeable future", McIlroy opting to revert to more old-fashioned means of communication with 18-time major winner Nicklaus.

"I spent two hours with Jack Nicklaus last week in his office in Palm Beach and had a great conversation about everything; business, golf, brand, the whole lot," McIlroy revealed in his pre-tournament press conference at Pinehurst on Wednesday. "And I got a lot from that.

"He said to me 'How the hell can you shoot 63 and then 78 (in the first two rounds of Nicklaus' Memorial Tournament). I said I wasn't meaning to, Jack. I'm trying not to!

"He said to me he was never afraid to change things up in the middle of a round if it wasn't going well. (If) he felt like he wasn't swinging well, he'd make a swing change right then and there.

"I had a great conversation with Jack and I feel very honoured that I'm able to call him up for advice if I need to. He's been very generous with his time. Some of the things he said to me, I'm really thinking about going into this week. He was a great US Open player (winning four) and hopefully some of those little nuggets of wisdom that he passed on to me might help this week."

McIlroy initially approached Nicklaus during the Memorial Tournament, where he went on to finish 15th, only to have to change his plans at the last minute.

"I blew him off, actually, to be honest," McIlroy added. "I was supposed to go for dinner at Jack's house on Tuesday night, but I got in a little bit late, so decided to leave it until Wednesday morning and met him at his office.

"He's always been really generous with his time with me, offered any sort of advice that I wanted or needed. To have that at my disposal has to be an advantage in some way. I don't ring him up, I ring his secretary up and say, 'I'd like to schedule a meeting, please.'"

Having struggled in the majors last year - memorably describing his golf after missing the cut in the Open Championship as "brain dead" - McIlroy had targeted doubling his tally of two major titles in 2014.

The 25-year-old recorded his best-ever finish of eighth at the Masters without ever being in contention, but believes he is close to the form which justifies being made favourite for a second US Open title this week.

"You have to go back to Padraig Harrington in '08 to have a multiple major champion in a single year," McIlroy added. "It doesn't happen that often. But I feel like my game is in a good enough place where I can definitely give myself a chance to do that.

"After the season I had in the majors last year, I was coming in this year and making them a real priority. I want to get in contention. I want to feel the buzz of being there on the last day of majors and having a chance to win and being more consistent.

"I've got three majors left this season and they're the biggest tournaments in the world and you want to try to do as well as you can in them and you do everything you can to prepare the best way possible. I wouldn't say there's anxiousness, but I feel like it's getting to the point where I should be at least contending again.

"It's only been five majors since I won at Kiawah (in the 2012 US PGA Championship), so it's not that bad. But even if it doesn't happen for me this week, getting myself in contention and feeling that buzz of having a chance, that's really what I want to do."

Whether McIlroy can do that at Pinehurst remains to be seen, with the firm, fast conditions and treacherous "turtleback" greens set to pose the world's best players an extremely tough test.

McIlroy highlighted the difficulty of the greens by saying there may be just five pins he can attack in 72 holes, but insists he is "relishing the challenge" of grinding out pars rather than decimating the field with a string of birdies.

"It's going to be a test of patience and I think I am better equipped than I was a few years ago," added McIlroy, who tees off at 7.40am on Thursday with 2010 winner and fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell, along with 2012 champion Webb Simpson.

"The US Open I won (by eight shots at Congressional) was abnormal. It was wet. It was low scoring. I haven't won a tournament whenever it's been like this. That's why I'm relishing the challenge. It's conditions that I haven't won in before and I'd love to be able to prove to myself, prove to other people that I can win in different conditions. It's a great opportunity to do that this week."

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