Gary Player thinks he knows what it will take for Rory McIlroy to reach his full potential: stability in his personal life.
UPDATE: Wednesday, July 31, at 2:36 p.m. ET by Ian Hanford
ESPN's Bob Harig reports McIlroy's response to Player's comments:
"I have the utmost respect for Gary Player,'' McIlroy said. "He is an incredible man. Obviously the success he's had on the golf course, but just the way he's lived his life and how healthy he is. Obviously he's an inspiration for everyone. I don't know what he said. This is the first time I've heard it. I don't really know, all I know is I've got a lot of respect for the man, and he's someone that I definitely look up to. ''
---End of update---
The 77-year-old outspoken golf legend, who made waves after posing nude for ESPN and for comments about the state of obesity in America, made comments about McIlroy to My Sporting Life of talkSPORT this week.
When asked what advice he'd give to the struggling North Irishman, Player said it was all about finding the "right" situation at home.
“He’s got to be intelligent and find the right wife," Player said. "If he finds the right wife, if he practices and if he’s dedicated, he could be the man.”
McIlroy is currently in a relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. As McIlroy's play has dipped in 2013, that relationship has come under scrutiny. Some feel the 24-year-old's love life is taking precedence over his professionalism.
While Player did not outwardly disparage Wozniacki, it was clear he thinks McIlroy has put golf in "second place":
When you’re in love as a young man naturally golf seems to take second place for a while. It’s natural. Love is still the greatest thing that ever happens in our lives. But the thing is for a man like Rory with talent galore he’s got to make sure he has a woman like I’ve got, who has been married [to me] for 56 years, that has only encouraged me to do well and made sacrifices.
Player, who won nine major championships during his illustrious career, was particularly bothered by McIlroy's decision to take extra time off after one of his biggest victories.
“I love Rory McIlroy, he’s got talent like you can’t believe but I was quite perturbed when I saw him win the U.S. Open and then the next tournament that he played was one month later," Player said.
“You can’t do that," Player continued. "What he should have done was take a week off after winning the U.S. Open to settle down and then play two tournaments and then the Open. You’ve got to prepare properly."
McIlroy won the U.S. Open in 2011, his first Grand Slam win. He and Wozniacki began dating that same year. They are often seen at each other's events as spectators, even sharing a kiss after the first round of this year's Masters tournament. She also caddied for him during the Masters Par 3 Contest this year.
While McIlroy's greatest triumphs as a golfer have come during that time period—McIlroy had won just one PGA Tour tournament before 2011—his public romance with the former top-ranked tennis player has been a never-ending source of controversy.
Never has that been more the case than now, with McIlroy struggling throughout the 2013 season. After winning four PGA Tour tournaments and taking the world No. 1 ranking last year, McIlroy is without a championship heading into August.
McIlroy currently ranks 35th on the PGA Tour in scoring average and has just one top-5 finish all season. He's placed no better than a tie for 25th in golf's three majors this year, and he was cut from the Open Championship this month.
While at Muirfield, McIlroy saw his first criticism by a golf legend. Nick Faldo called out McIlroy for not placing golf first in his life, openly wondering whether he's putting in proper practice time.
As noted by Steve DiMeglio of USA Today, McIlroy responded by shrugging his shoulders at the criticism, saying, "What's the big deal? I haven't had the best six months, but it's OK. I'm fine. I've got a good life. So, you know, it doesn't bother me. I'm in a good place."
McIlroy shot an opening-round 79 at the British Open en route to being cut. That performance dropped McIlroy to No. 3 in the rankings, as Phil Mickelson's triumphant trip to Muirfield pushed him to No. 2. Tiger Woods remains the world's top-ranked golfer by a significant margin.
McIlroy has not responded to Player's comments at this time.
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