For the first time in young Rory McIlroy’s career, it is not all going according to plan.
The 23-year-old from Northern Ireland has missed the cut his last three times out, including this past week at The Memorial in Dublin, Ohio. After Tiger Woods' come from behind win this weekend, one could get the sense that we have taken a time machine back to 2007 again and golf is Tiger and then everybody else.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
When you end up having the meteoric rise that McIlroy is currently on, similar to Tiger's in the late 1990’s, it seems almost impossible to believe that these athletes are indeed human and there is a reason what they do is so amazing. In golf, what Rory has achieved and what Tiger and Jack Nicklaus achieved at such a young age is truly just remarkable.
Golf truly is a thinking man’s game and the experience of playing tough courses, along with executing certain shots and putts and understanding the pressures it takes to win at the top level just does not come easily based on pure raw talent.
Most golfers hit their prime around 30. They still possess the power on the tee to go long, while they are also able to use their experiences to know how to avoid trouble and when to press the go button and try to score. In terms of maturity, they have real life experiences and have a good sense of how to handle the aspects of the game. Some grind for years, like Vijay Singh and find huge success after they turn 35. It is a matter of perspective and what one’s body and mind can achieve together.
For the phenoms, it is a different story. McIlroy possesses a level of raw talent that is very rare to harness at a championship level. He, up until the last few weeks, has had such a rocket-fueled rise up the charts that at some point it had to catch up to him. He won last year’s United States Open by eight shots!
Yet, it seems for the first time in his public life that real life issues are getting in the way. McIlroy has a very public relationship with top women’s tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. He has handled, at least in public, the great demands of trying to further his career while trying to be the supportive partner of someone else trying to stay at the top of her profession.
Over the past year, he has changed his management crew from Chubby Chandler to his own people. While there are some short term pains from such a public separation and Chandler’s partner Lee Westwood, McIlroy is showing what we all try to do at 22 or 23 years old, which is just trying to be our own person.
Now we see some misfiring on the course. The missed cut two weeks ago at the BMW PGA at Wentworth, a big tournament of the European Tour, was especially disappointing. McIlroy was openly frustrated on the course.
Honestly, having a rough spell at this point is probably going to be a blessing in disguise to him in the long run. McIlroy, like someone just graduating from college, needs these rough life experiences to grow as a person. While we, as fans, expect robotic behavior from our stars, they are still human beings underneath all the skills.
Golf is a game that can be played at a high level for at least a full generation. When you see someone like a Rory McIlroy who has all the skills and the personality to match, you want to root for them for years. Deep down, you want them at 40 to be showing the same joy they showed at 20. It is painful to watch Sergio Garcia grind through tournaments knowing he hates it.
Whether McIlroy wins anything of note this year or not is not important. Having Rory the phenom turn into Rory the man is more important and whatever short term growing pains we see now will be paid back in spades as he enjoys a full career.