I woke up this morning shortly after 6 o’clock, blinked at the clock and thought to myself: ‘What time do I need to be at the golf course?’ Then I realized I didn’t have to be at the golf course at all. The U.S. Open is over. For me, having the event a few miles from my house at Congressional was great, but it also made for a hectic week.
In all though, it was fantastic. If there was one player in the field I wanted to see win it was Rory McIlroy. Here’s a simple fact: he’s a wonderful golfer who has the potential to be a truly elite player—as in winning a half-dozen major championships or perhaps even more—before he’s done. But I honestly think he may be a better person than he is a golfer.
I think everyone who follows golf marveled at the way he handled himself after his Sunday meltdown at The Masters. He answered every question; never snapped at anyone; kept his sense of humor intact and made no attempt to rush off at any point. His behavior was in direct contrast to You-Know-Who.
Look, I don’t want to turn this into a “Rory-is-good-Tiger-is-bad,” deal. But it is impossible not to see the differences between the two. Tiger plays clenched-teeth golf and has played it at a level never seen before in the game. If he doesn’t break Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major titles it won’t be because he didn’t have the ability, it will be because he self-destructed.
I think McIlroy is sneaky competitive. He doesn’t clench his teeth and he doesn’t bark at people but the fact that he came back from The Masters disaster to not only win the next major but to absolutely dominate it from start-to-finish says a lot about him as a competitor. A lot of players would have subconsciously held back, not wanting the spotlight again so soon, not wanting to face all the questions about, ‘well what if you blow THIS lead.’ McIlroy embraced it.
If you watch the kid play golf, you have to love his game. He’s got a swing that makes other pros sigh. He’s got a smile that makes young girls sigh. He has about him a star quality that you just don’t see very often. It is no knock on guys like Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer and Charl Schwartzel—all major champions—to say that they are champions and McIlroy is a star—who is now also a champion. It’s just a fact, one that they would probably all agree with.
That’s NOT to say—as some inevitably will because of all the record-breaking numbers he produced—that he is the “next Tiger.” There is no next Tiger. There are only four players in the history of the game who have won double-digit major titles: Nicklaus, Woods, Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen.
The likelihood that anyone will join that list anytime soon is slim. Padraig Harrington was way over the top on Saturday when he said that McIlroy could break Nicklaus’s record. The kid, who sounds more like 42 when he talks than 22, just shook his head when he heard that and said, “Oh Paddy, Paddy Paddy….I’d just like to win my first one.”
Exactly right. Now that he’s done that we can all revel in that victory and hope there will be more to come. But let’s not say the Jack or Tiger words yet. As of this moment he’s got ONE major title.
But there’s no doubt he is going to be looked at as The Next One in golf and that’s good because of all the non-golf qualities he brings along with him. He’s smart and he’s funny. The other players don’t just respect him, they like him—really like him.
Last Tuesday, I bumped into him in The Congressional locker room. I hadn’t seen him in Charlotte and I told him right away that I wanted to be the millionth person to tell him how remarkable his post-Augusta behavior had been.
He smiled. “Well, I certainly had plenty of time to think about what I was going to say didn’t I?” he said, laughing since his collapse had been pretty much complete by the 13th hole.
Then he shrugged. “Honestly, I meant it when I said I was disappointed but in the end it was a golf tournament. I would think I’ll get to play in plenty more.”
That’s just a little different from, “second place sucks.”
He had just finished playing so I asked him what he thought of the golf course. “I think,” he said, “that it’s very score-able.”
I guess he had that right. He didn’t so much score as he overwhelmed. Sure, the golf course was soft and there will be some questions if—amazingly—the USGA went TOO far in trying to give the players birdie chances since 20 players finished under par. None were within shouting distance of McIlroy although I will say this: If you don’t take note of Jason Day, who now has two second place finishes in majors this year, you’re missing something.
Day is also very likeable but he plays at a snail’s pace. That’s another thing about McIlroy: he plays FAST. Woods always copied Nicklaus and plays as if he is being paid by the hour. McIlroy is more like Tom Watson: pick a club, check your target, stand up and swing. My dream final twosome in a major would be McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, not just because having the two most like-able kids in golf going head-to-head would be great, but because they might play through the entire field.
Put those two on a golf course with no one in front of them and they’ll play 18 holes in under three hours with time to spare. And both will probably shoot in the 60s.
For now though, Fowler is still about potential. McIlroy is here and we can only hope he is here to stay for a long, long time. My wife, who knows me very well, said to me on Sunday night, “I just know you cried when he hugged his father and said, “Happy Father’s Day.”
Damn right I did. It was one of those sweet, genuine moments—the word genuine is important here—that make sports and the people in them worth caring about. (By the way, am I the only one who thinks Mr. McIlroy looks like a Bill Parcells double?).
Honestly, I’m not sure how the week could have turned out much better than it did. Okay, I do have one complaint: Why couldn’t McIlroy’s six-iron at No. 10 on Sunday have gone in? That would have been one of the most amazing moments ever in major championship golf. He missed by about 10 inches.
So, as it turns out, he's not perfect. But boy does he come close.