Rory McIlroy must channel his inner Real Madrid in pursuit of major glory

Ronan MacNamara

Carlo Ancelotti and Real Madrid team (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

Ronan MacNamara

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Four days before the UEFA Champions League final at Wembley, Carlo Ancelotti did a phenomenal interview with The Athletic where he was true to his nickname of ‘Don Carlo.’

He was as relaxed as one could be before a day of reckoning, a bowl of pasta and a glass of wine on the table. He doesn’t describe himself as a tactical genius, there is no grand masterplan. He gets nervous before big matches but has the composure to relax himself, focus and react tactically in the game to what is happening.

Reflecting on Real Madrid’s last two European Cup final victories last weekend and in 2022, there is no doubt that the squads of their fourteenth and fifteenth titles won’t go down as one of the great ‘Los Blancos’ sides.

Outplayed by a superior Liverpool team who played a perfect game in Paris two years ago only for Thibaut Courtois to produce the performance of a lifetime. Against an average Borussia Dortmund side in Wembley last week they should have been one if not two goals down by half time.

Two finals they have been under the cosh, two finals they have won. Why? It’s Real Madrid, it’s what they do. They expect to win the European Cup, it’s in their DNA.

That’s what is currently holding Rory McIlroy back.

Winning finals is in Madrid’s DNA, a feeling, a sense they’re going to win. Rory doesn’t have that in majors at the moment and the doubt that has crept into his mind has been validated by ten years without winning a major.

Since winning his fourth and last major title in 2014, McIlroy has 20 major championship top 10s over the last decade (the most in golf, by three) but no wins.

He has achieved everything there is to achieve in the game of golf since. Winning Ryder Cups, the only player to win three FedEx Cup titles, multiple stints as world number one. The list goes on.

Heck, he’s become a much better player in the last ten years since he won his last major. Whereas you could say when Real Madrid won La Decima in 2014, their team ten years on pound for pound was worse, they didn’t even have a natural striker…

Yet they have this killer instinct and McIlroy doesn’t, he must find it.

Similarly, Real Madrid waited twelve years to win the European Cup again and have won six of the last ten editions of the competition. The floodgates opened for the Galacticos and they can for Rory.

But even more striking is that between 2002 and 2013, Madrid did not reach a European Cup final nor did they come close to. McIlroy in the last ten years has had chances to win a fifth major but only the 2022 Open and 2023 US Open can count as genuine realistic chances, heading into the back nine on the final day.

The question was posed to former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley whether McIlroy needs an Ancelotti type mentor in the background.

McIlroy seems to be handcuffed by expectation when he arrives at major championships. He needs to rediscover the freedom of when he beat Scottie Scheffler in the Tour Championship or channel whatever Luke Donald got out of him at last September’s Ryder Cup.

Release the pressure, take away expectation. Be like Ancelotti. Arrive relaxed and react to what happens on the golf course.

He was so caught up in the moment on the charge [when winning majors from 2011-14]. It was a different part of his life, different part of his career, the pointy elbows were out and I’m going to be the most dominant player in the game,” explained McGinley.

“He’s more mature now, people know who he is. When he started out winning those majors the competition wasn’t as fierce, the competition is much more capable of playing the game Rory plays. 

“Rory played a game the others couldn’t match, he loved to exert his dominance. He can’t do that anymore because the others play a similar game so he has to box a little bit cleverly.

“Golf can be the solution. When I say that, I mean next week is going to be his 17th tournament this year, like Tiger in some years only played 17 or 18 events. So Rory seems to be playing a lot of golf, almost as if this could be the way to play my way into a major win again.

“Rory is very, very unique as a top player to be in the other basket of unstructured. And that’s why he’s incredibly exciting to watch. Because he’s got flair, the flair players are not structured, they’re not held back.

“Rory plays it in a flamboyant way, like John Daly plays in a flamboyant way. You know, Nicklaus was very structured. So that kind of flamboyance is when Rory is at his best. When he’s given artistic creativity to go and express himself. And I think that’s where Luke got him in the Ryder Cup.

“Go and express yourself. Be representative. You know, you’re a leader by what you do on a course, not by what you say at team meetings or whatever. It’s about what you know, be a leader on the course. When he’s unhindered, that’s when he’s at his best, and he’s not shackled.  

“And, you know, sometimes expectations shackle you. And he’s got the expectations as much as we have expectations for 10 years without a major nobody’s got more expectations than him. You know, internally. It’s tough, expectations handcuff you.”

To quote the famous line “you’re Rory f**king McIlroy.” It’s hard to be that when you are shackled by pressure.


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