We need to talk about Rory, says Vousden

Thought for the Day
Don’t let the fear of losing be greater than the excitement of winning

Rory, Where Art Thou?
Rory McIlroy is not exactly an enigma, but his inability to win a major since 2014 (for the mathematically innumerate, like me, that’s eight years) is certainly a mystery. When he plays at his best – as we saw in the last round of the Masters when he shot a near course-equalling record 64 – he’s virtually unbeatable but those stellar rounds seem so often to follow, or be sandwiched between, rather more disappointing efforts.

Rory’s ability to shoot himself in both feet by getting off to a poor start in major championships was never better demonstrated than at Royal Portrush in 2019 when he had such a disastrous first round of 79, which included a quadruple-bogey eight on the 1st hole that he failed to make the cut. To no-one’s surprise he fired 65 in round two and only missed out on playing at the weekend by a single stroke – blowing thermonuclear hot and then sub-Antarctic cold has become a bit of a trademark.

That Open Championship is by no means the only time he’s ruined an otherwise good week with one poor day’s play but we have to remember that in the same year as his Portrush meltdown, he won the Players Championship, the Canadian Open and the FedEx Playoffs (which entailed a $15million payday), en route to being named PGA Tour Player of the Year.

However, he long ago passed the point where he needs to count his winnings and once a golfer reaches his level of multi-millionaire status, with more money in the bank than he could spend in several lifetimes, it is the accumulation of trophies, not moolah, that gets him out of bed. And yet, to be major-less for close to a decade is a real cause of concern.

There have been several factors to perhaps explain that unhappy streak, starting with a change of equipment in 2017 that was not of his own choosing. Nike decided to pull out of the club-making business and Rory hit the practice ground with such dedication, trying to figure out his new weapons, that he injured himself. He then compounded his problems, more than once, by trying to get back to competition too early and exacerbating the injury. He also, of course, has become a husband and father, and while neither of these come under the label of ‘problems’ they certainly distract, often in the best possible way, from the day job.

Then there was a change of swing coach, when Michael Bannon, the man who had nurtured Rory’s technique since the boy wonder was eight-years-old, took a more backroom role while McIlroy spent more time with Pete Cowan. Bannon, however, came back into the picture late last year, although it would appear that both he and Cowan have a role to play. Potentially the most significant factor heralding a return to major-winning form is that, for the last year or more Rory has been working with renowned sports psychologist Dr Bob Rotella, author of books such as Golf is Not a Game of Perfect and Your 15th Club: The Inner Secret to Great Golf.

The revelation came in May 2021 when Rory ended an 18-month drought of victories by taking the Wells Fargo Championship, and thanked Cowan, Bannon and in particular, Rotella. Yes, his swing needed to function but at Rory’s level of ability, it is so often the mental approach that leads to disappointment. When you can step up to the ball and hit virtually every type of shot known to man, yes, the swing can go awry but more often than not it is the thoughts that need adjustment. It is noticeable that, as he demonstrated in the Masters, once the pressure is off because a realistic hope of winning is gone, the freewheeling natural talent that McIlroy has in abundance is allowed to showcase itself.

Like so many of us, the trick of good golf is to not let the brain get in the way of the body.

Most professional golfers would look at the Irishman’s career with jealousy, including as it does 20 wins in America and eight in Europe, including four majors. The rest of us would simply eye his $60 million in PGA Tour winnings (a figure that could be doubled or even trebled if you add in endorsements, appearance fees and the like) with green-eyed envy. Well, you may be more generous of spirit than me but I wouldn’t mind some of that dosh, and to heck with the trophies.

This season may well be a watershed for this eminently likeable and extraordinarily talented golfer. If he can truly get his mojo back – and the omens are promising – we may yet see the best of him. Let us hope so.

Quote of the Week
During the last quarter century, as we all know, greens have become more difficult to putt. The main reason, of course, is related to the solunar tables and the gradual warming of the earth’s atmosphere. Then of course, there’s the new multi-dimpled golf ball
George Peper

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