Monday 26 August 2019

'Seeing the emotion he showed after that was really cool' - Rory McIlroy taking inspiration from Novak Djokovic

Rory McIlroy in Carnoustie
Rory McIlroy in Carnoustie
Rory McIlroy lets fly from the tee during a practice round at Carnoustie Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Brian Keogh

You only have to spend a few minutes watching Jon Rahm blasting his driver into the wild blue yonder to feel that uncontrollable urge to hit something very hard with a stick.

Just ask Rory McIlroy, who set off with the Basque beast on a practice round at Carnoustie early yesterday and walked off the 18th green a few hours later convinced - though not definitively - that heavy bombing might just bring down fortress Carnoustie.

When it comes to a thing of beauty in golf, McIlroy with driver in hand ranks up there with Pádraig Harrington in wet rough with a lob wedge or pre-hydrant Tiger Woods eyeing up a 'must-make' 10-footer.

If he can get away from worrying about his place in history for a few days, the 29-year-old might just find the fearless streak of the teenager who'd bounced down the fairways to the leading amateur's silver medal here 11 years ago.

Recalling how he'd spoken at the Irish Open about being more free-wheeling - "like a teenager" - he only had to see Rahm launch a drive over the sunburnt Carnoustie turf to be reminded that, whatever about the vagaries of putting, his biggest weapon will always be the driver.

All he needs now is the courage of his convictions.

"I alluded to this in Ireland," McIlroy said. "As time goes on, you tend to see the trouble a bit more. You become a little more careful. But playing a practice round with Jon there, it's just natural instinct to hit it as far as I can hit it.

"You're out there watching that and you're saying to yourself, 'I used to do that!'

"If you can do that - if you are driving the ball well - it's a big advantage."

Many can hit the ball a mile but few are capable of winning Majors, and as far as McIlroy is concerned, a four-year drought is not that big a deal in a 20-year career.

After watching Novak Djokovic's emotional Wimbledon celebrations on Sunday, McIlroy was reminded that whatever about his failure to win the Masters, winning a Claret Jug never gets old.


"The Open - it's massive," he said. "It's a huge championship and I am very honoured to have won it and I'd love to win it again.

"Even looking at someone like Novak Djokovic winning Wimbledon the other day, he hadn't won that in a while.

"Seeing the emotion he showed after that was really cool. Golfers are trying to win these four tournaments, tennis players are trying to win those four tournaments, and it's a huge deal.

"If you are - I don't want to say used to winning them - but you have tasted that, you want more of it.

"So four years is nothing in a career of golf but at the same time, at the rate I was winning them (Majors), it feels like a long time."

Given the burnt-out course and the wispy rough, McIlroy is leaning towards some judicious use of the driver as a means to winning Major number five.

"It looks like the wind is going to be similar for the four days - out of the south-west - and Jon and I had a good chat about it all the way around.

"There isn't much rough and I think if you are someone like Jon or myself who can fly it over 300 yards, you are basically taking all the trouble out of play on a lot of holes.

"So I think you will see guys get very aggressive off the tee. Obviously, you have to pick your points where you are not going to be as aggressive.

"But for the most part, if you can get it down there and get a wedge in your hand it is going to be a big advantage."

He knows there's danger lurking everywhere but, given the weather, the firm conditions and the lack of rough, he believes he can take a lot of trouble out of play, even on the 396-yard opening hole.

"I never even thought about hitting driver on the first before but if you bang it up the left you can get it on the green," he said.

"The third, fifth, 15th and 17th are four holes where you are not going to hit driver. But if you get the third downwind, you can fly it right onto the green today with a driver. For the two back pins, it is not a bad play.

"It all depends on how you are feeling on the day and the conditions but I think most players will try to be as aggressive as they can be."

As for his putting, which has let him down several times this season, McIlroy believes attitude is as important as stroking the ball well on slow, flat greens.

"I just don't think you should get that upset with a missed putt," he said when asked about the videos Brad Faxon sent him during the Irish Open, reminding him to be careful of his body language.

"Maybe the reason for the shoulders slump or the head going down was just the expectation that I put on myself.

"So you have got to accept you are not going to hole everything. If you can accept that you are going to be fine."

Irish Independent

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