I didn’t sleep too well last Thursday night. Having swallowed every word of Rory McIlroy’s pre US Open bravado, I lumped a healthy wager on him repeating his 2011 demolition of the field when the same Major was played at Congressional. He was coming in fresh after injury, clearly relishing the prospect of opening his shoulders at a bomber’s paradise. ‘Don’t touch my rough’, he cried. ‘It’ll only give the rest of them a chance’. As it turned out he probably uprooted more hay than the greenkeepers. We were both scoffing humble pie for dessert.
It would’ve been easy to write a reactionary piece, plucking words from an empty wallet through a clouded mind. But then I’d just be one in an army of keyboard warriors baying for McIlroy’s blood. I wasn’t even angry, just disappointed. As shots accumulated, all resolve seemed to wither – his much publicised chest gains retreating into obscurity. There was the customary few birdies thrown in at the end to remind the galleries of what might’ve been, but unlike the heroic slow death of the protagonist refusing to say die on the battlefield, with Rory you’re left wondering, why die at all?
There’s been a lot of excuses of late. Equipment changes, weddings, house moves and rib injuries to name a few – things that didn’t seem to matter to Tiger Woods in his prime. Rory has even come out since to say he was expecting 2017 to be a transitional year, but start dampening expectation and you start believing your own narrative. Renowned mind-reader, Steve Elkington, accused McIlroy of being “bored” with the game last weekend, and though I can’t figure out the inner workings of my own skull, I would agree that McIlroy’s dedication, this year at least, has left something to be desired. That said, if I had 200 million in the bank I’m not sure how often I’d be going to the driving range either, but because I’m not living with such a burdening bank balance, I’ll put it on record to confirm, I’d go every day.
I admire McIlroy for his outspoken nature, for never shirking confrontation or allowing himself be bullied. His words are deserving of more ink than most. But ultimately I admire him for his golf game, something I believe has been neglected in recent months. This week McIlroy takes his 200 million to The Travelers – hold onto your caravans lads – I mean the PGA Tour’s Travelers Championship in Connecticut, kick-starting a stretch of tournaments that includes the Rory hosted Irish Open, The Scottish Open and a return to Royal Birkdale for the British Open in July. If he parks the transitional spiel and gets his head right, I would expect McIlroy to win at least one of these events and his priors will be forgotten.
It’s time to wake up and smell the alluring scent of golfing immortality Rory, because apart from Dustin Johnson, there has been no alpha male prowling the fairways in recent years. It is a reflection upon how highly I regard McIlroy that anything less than that top spot would be a disappointment. And yet despite all this talk of increased competition and level playing fields, I still feel deep down that there’s a certain inevitability that the heir for Woods’ throne will eventually come claim his crown. He’s just not sure he wants it yet.