'Pressure the problem for Rory McIlroy, not his new clubs,' says Tony Jacklin
By the close of play in Florida today the health of Rory McIlroy's game relative to the clubs he uses will have had another thorough once-over.
Every time he addresses the ball with his new Nike sticks he is effectively invited to push out his tongue and say "ah". This will continue until he strings four rounds together and lifts a pot at the end of the week. Maybe that will happen at the Honda Classic this Sunday.
McIlroy has played only three competitive rounds since ditching Titleist technology in exchange for $125m (£82.6m) and a swoosh on his bag. This has prompted almost weekly bulletins proclaiming the end of McIlroy's world is nigh.
Only today the Northern Irishman was forced to explain his troubles so far. "It's an adjustment period," he said. "It is more about how I'm swinging the club. That's the real concern. It's a little bit mental, but it was more physical [with my swing]. The biggest thing was finding a driver that suited me and I feel like I've got one now that really works. I just need tournament rounds to get that confidence in it."
But the hoopla is all nonsense, according to Tony Jacklin, the flashing British blade in the vanguard of the game in the days before golfing celebrity. If there is a threat to McIlroy's prospects it will not be the clubs that bring him down, at least not the golf clubs, argues Jacklin.
"There is no hiding place for the lad. That is part of the problem. It is not the ideal start to the year for him to have all this negative commentary but it goes with the territory. Somebody gets $150m or whatever it was, it is a talking point. I changed clubs often, from Dunlop to Ping to Spalding to Cobra, I just kept all my specs the same, the shafts, grips, lofts, lies, etc. It didn't make a bit of difference to me. We are going back a long time, of course, but if the swing weight and the shafts are the same as they were before, which I assume they are, then I don't see there should be a difference. He just hasn't played enough."
Jacklin was speaking during a brief return to Europe from his Florida home, which sits on the opposite side of the panhandle to McIlroy's new $6.5m pad in West Palm Beach. Jacklin still has to work for a living, in a way McIlroy won't whatever the trophy count over the remainder of a career that many believe will be as rich in silverware as coin. But there are dangers, as Jacklin pointed out.
"We hope Rory will go on to win many more," he said. "But a lot can happen to derail a career. You can't take anything for granted. On the surface of it Rory is a very accomplished player. He seems to have his head screwed on, people love him, sponsors love him. He's young and the world is at his feet. It is fascinating to see how he handles it all. He is driven. It's all about the majors, a fact he seems to have grasped already."
The contrast across the generations offers a fascinating study. The advent of dedicated sports channels and the commensurate growth in sponsorship has transformed the prospects of the jobbing tour player. When Jacklin won the Open at Royal Lytham in 1969 he banked just £4,250. His victory at the US Open the following year, the first by a European, was more lucrative but, at $30,000, did not amount to a trust fund for three generations of junior Jacklins. The upshot of all this modern wealth is the ability to pick and choose when to play. McIlroy is playing the long game, which is another good reason not to rush to judgement.
"When I look back at my career the one thing I didn't do well was set my schedule," Jacklin said. "It was a different world. We were chasing money and there was never enough. These guys today can make more in a year than they can spend in a lifetime. Ian Poulter has just finished a house in Florida that took three years to build. There is a Bentley or a Rolls in every garage and he hasn't even won a major. Good luck to him."
Tony Jacklin is an ambassador for Glenmorangie, official spirit of the Open Championship