Monday, June 20, 2011

McIlroy near perfect, has all the intangibles to be The Next One

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.


Mr. X said...

Gerry McIlroy looks like someone stuffed Kirstie Alley inside Malcolm McDowell.

Tim said...

John - since it seems to no longer be a random event in these majors - International players winning and competing at a much higher level than US players - what is Finchem going to do with the PGA Tour to ensure that the very best players in the world play the Tour? Is the money so much better than the European stars will stay home, or is that what will ultimately get them over here full-time. I'm not aware enough of the structure and depth of the European Tour, but I don't think there is any doubt the best players in the world are there and not here, no?

Dana King said...

I was there on Thursday, and watched a lot of the tournament over the weekend. Are the members at Congressional upset over the low scores, especially since the USDA did seem to set the course up the last day to play easier? I have to believe the players will pay for these scores next year at Olympic (as they did at Winged Foot after Miller's 63 at Oakmont).

George said...

I really do not care if any international players play on the United Stated PGA Tour. We have a right to set our requirements, and one must meet them if he wants to play here...and make a ton of money. Am I provincial? Probably, but I am an American first. Any one can join us...we have the best country on the face of the earth...but we can set the rules to live here, and to play here.

Anonymous said...


Many of those who cover golf now are sharing that they always thought He Who Must Not Be Named was a jerk. Other than you, how many of those reporters, columnists, and/or bloggers actually had a discouraging word to say on the record about You Know Who prior to his crack-up?

I guess it illustrates the adage to remember to considering being nice to those you pass on the way up since you may meet them again on the way back down

TomWalsh said...

Congo needs to cut down at least half of their trees. Get some air moving or they will always be soft esp after any rain. I liked the look of the course. I didn't like the huge ball marks and the huge divots on the bent fairways.

Rory would have killed every cat in the alley no matter the weather.

Ryan said...

Seeing as how Tiger hasn't won a Major since '08, it was kinda irritating that the announcers referenced at all he wasn't there in a competitive sense. The only thing his presence would have done is suck some of the wind out of the media getting true quotes from Rory and us learning about him. It would have been them asking Tiger about Rory, and Rory responding to what Tiger would have said about him. At least without Tiger there the references were more for historical nature by the media to him, not a back and forth on press conference vs. press conference.

The fresh air was welcomed and breathable without Tiger's suffocation as a bystander, as he would have been like the other golfers.

Brian said...

Although McIlroy is a great player and a great person, this win was diminished in my eyes because it didn't seem like a US Open because of the soft conditions and lower-cut rough. I can't wait till Olympic Club because that will hopefully be a truer test than this past week at Congressional.

Thanks for not being hyperbolic about this win like the rest of the media.

Brian said...

John, I was wondering what you thought about only having 2 Americans or less in the top 6 for the 3rd major out of 4? Is American golf in trouble heading forward?

Mr. X said...

Apparently Rory's ex-girlfriend showed up unannounced in Augusta sometime before his Sunday round. Just imagine if the kid runs the table on the Majors this year.

Taha said...

Curious to read your thoughts about the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals

Anonymous said...

State of American Golf: Rickie Fowler, Day 665 without a win.

Mr. X said...

Sorry to see Lindsay Czarniak going to Bristol.

Anonymous said...


Who was the last guy to get Jesus status from the media and the sponsors? Tiger Woods......was so adoring and such a fine example of a man. Really John, you as a 24 hour journalist is forced to create copy. When sports writers start to opine and report on morals, the great champions are put at risk. Rory, we want his morals more than his cut throat championship golf. What's the chance he could walk away with Byron Nelson status and the majors, remembering that the Lord Byron retired in his prime. If Rory truly is of what champions are made of and he matches the golf world's need for Jesus to be the greatest player, he truly will be the first. My benchmark for greatness is at least nineteen majors. Journalism is forced to say that two or three is what new champions are made of. Jesus is coming.....just not is golf.