My dear Rory,
While writing you this letter I’m reminded of a famous story you’re no doubt familiar with given your proud upbringing in Northern Ireland and unfortunate affinity towards Manchester United.
The story goes that George Best, one of the most mercurial talents ever to grace a football pitch, is back at his plush hotel after a successful day in the casino. No longer a United player – his dedication to his craft compromised by a want dragging him away from it – Best is counting out his winnings in hundred dollar bills, Miss World scantily-clad alongside him in the bed, when there’s a knock at the hotel room’s door.
In steps the Bellboy with a fresh order of champagne and the finest caviar who takes one look at Best, surrounded by beauty and wealth and remarks, without sarcasm: ‘So George, where did it all go wrong?’
I put the same question to you, Rory, on the Monday after you tie fifth at the Masters, bank $437,000 for four days’ work, return to number four in the world rankings and retire to your Florida mansion to be soaked in winter sun on your Christmas holidays in mid-November. I type to you with cold fingers from the desk of my one-bed flat in Dublin; a storage heater on the fritz, sheets of sideways rain pattering my window like the subdued clapping of a patron-less Augusta where once again you failed to procure that one garment of clothing your mountains of money can’t buy: a winning green jacket.
Why is it, Rory, that when you want something so badly, it becomes the one thing that’s so hard to get? Needless to say, I’ve been scratching my head on your behalf to figure it out.
You went into the Masters last year with expectations piled so high off the back of a Players Championship win and some career best figures and never raised a gallop. By contrast, you went into last week’s renewal somewhat removed from the spotlight, with no obvious form-line and little fanfare and blew yourself out of the tournament with an opening 75. You’ve tried to play it down, make us believe that this tournament isn’t the be-all and end-all, and of course it isn’t, but the manner in which you’re getting in your own way from the off suggests that it means a lot more to you than you publicly accept. Now, I don’t claim to know all the answers; I can’t talk to golf balls like Bob Rotella and they sure don’t whisper back, but it seems clear that something needs to change in order for you to produce your best on a Masters stage that is filling you with such apprehension.
And I know what it’s like, Rory. Christmas Day is fast approaching and in my family, everybody sings, even if they can’t. I can hold a note but I don’t sing in public. ‘C’mon John, one song. It could be my last Christmas.’ Safe to say Mam plasters the guilt on heavy. Thirty years later and she’s still at it. And I sing so as not to disappoint her, Rory, my voice so breathless that my own ears bleed to its screech but after that first song is out and the nerves settle, my lungs fill and to say Pavarotti would be proud… well that would be an exaggeration.
But my point is, Rory, we need to figure a way to blast out that first tune without making an absolute balls of it. Ten shots behind the eventual winner after round one. Since 2015, 28-over par for the first round; 64-under from rounds 2-4. You’re producing beautiful music when the pressure is off, Rory. It was the same story at Portrush last year, however the difference between myself and yourself is that my family is obligated to sit through my butchering of Paul Brady’s The Island. Major championship fields are leaving you on your lonesome before you’ve even reached the chorus.
So, what can change? ‘The caddie’, squawks a Boeing 747 of a seagull from a crane opposite my window. I didn’t want to say it because poor Harry gets a rough ride from the critics but I’ll be honest with you, Rory, it doesn’t sit easy with me that your best friend is your bag man. I know he’s an exceptional golfer in his own right, and in an ideal world the best man at your wedding would be the best man for the job, but it just doesn’t strike me as a working relationship. When your head’s in the clouds, sometimes I think Harry’s right there with you, counting the angels in heaven. Then again, look at Austin and Dustin sharing the best walk in golf of a Sunday at Augusta, brothers in arms five strokes clear, so evidently there’s no set formula to follow when it comes to choosing the man to fill your side saddle.
However, I was taken by something you said after your second round. The fact you credited a ‘colourful’ pep-talk from Augusta blazer, Jimmy Dunne for your upturn in fortunes in round two made me wonder why it wasn’t Harry lifting his charge from the hallowed turf of Augusta National and enriching him with self-belief.
I’ll never forget JP getting up you in 2017 when you had that identity crisis at the Open, and more importantly, how well you responded to it. Sometimes a bit of tough love is what a person needs and forgive me if I’m wrong, Rory, but I’ve never heard much differing opinion between yourself and Harry. I’m not suggesting you’re in need of divine intervention. It might just be that the thing you think you don’t want to hear will be the very thing that gets through to you, and what would be so wrong with that?
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