US Open: Rory McIlroy’s fearless approach will now be handsomely rewarded
Paul Getty always maintained his formula for success was rise early, work late and strike oil.
As far as we know, Rory McIlroy has not yet managed the third requirement but he has certainly cracked the first two and is about to strike gold as one of the world’s most exciting, charismatic golfers.
A pot of gold beyond the imagination of most human beings awaits the 22-year-old from Holywood; $1.44 million for winning this US Open just for starters. On the evidence of his golf game in 2011, the young man is set to make a mint during the course of what could be a career of extraordinary longevity.
Professional football and rugby players of the modern era are lucky if they get much more than a single decade at the top. Cricketers normally don’t last a whole lot longer.
Swimmers are getting past it at 25, but golfers are the true epitome of the Duracell bunny; they just keep on going.
At Congressional Country Club this week, one of McIlroy’s few challengers, Englishman Lee Westwood, is in his 39th year and still fighting to land his first major. Y.E. Yang, the closest challenger setting out yesterday in forlorn pursuit of the Ulster kid, will be 40 next January.
No-one can tell what the future holds. But Rory McIlroy looks like he’s capable of breaking records for much of his career, given the excellence of his play in seven of the eight rounds at the two majors played this year.
He ‘blew up’ at Augusta on the final afternoon, exploding under the pressure that saw him spraying shots around the course like a gardener jets water from his hosepipe.
But that single last nine holes, or last round if you like, excepted, McIlroy has massacred the best quality opposition the sport can find on a consistent basis this year.
How has he done it this week at Congressional? How has he managed to make the rest of the world’s top golfers resemble more Sunday hackers than so-called superstars of their game?
Some key factors have come into play. Most of the talk on the eve of this 111th US Masters was of the long, difficult course.
Some spoke of it in almost hushed terms, like the monster in the woods at the end of the garden that you don’t mention.
Intimidation has been a lucrative business in this country for as long as anyone can remember. Gangsters like Al Capone cut their business teeth in the field.
But not even Alphonse at his most fearsome could have put the wind up Rory McIlroy, one of the few to play the course as he saw it, not as his mind feared it.
He attacked and continued to attack it. And when in doubt, he attacked some more. Caution, playing defensively, was not in his mantra because he blamed that approach for throwing away the Masters title on the final afternoon at Augusta.
Thus, emboldened by his strong beliefs and the complete lack of fear typical of youth, McIlroy blazed a trail at the top of the leader board that was far too hot for anyone else to handle.
To see a player, any player let alone a kid, toying with one of America’s supposedly toughest golf courses, was a spectacle to behold. But one other factor helped him reach the top of the field and stay there; the craven, hopeless approach of the rest of the field.
Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Padraig Harrington, Ernie Els, Charl Schwartzel, Jason Day, Yang and Sergio Garcia all had their moments. But they were precious few, and were far out-weighed by the mistakes they all made.
What you ought to see at a U.S. Open is the sort of style, panache and brio shown all week by McIlroy. But he has been in a field of one, in those qualities. American golf right now is what John McEnroe would call ‘the pitts’. Tiger Woods wasn’t at Congressional due to injury but it’s doubtful whether even he could have lived with McIlroy in this mood.
For the young Ulsterman not only attacked and took on the course; he did so with precision and accuracy. Rory McIlroy has genius within his frame but he has more than that; a mind uncluttered by convention, shorn of fear and willing to give it a go, whatever the circumstances. He fits like a glove the desire of those Australian sports fans who coined the phrase ‘Have a go, yer mug’.
He’s had a go, alright, this last week; some go. And it has been altogether too much for the rest of the world’s top golfers. Indeed, such has been ascendency, his gross superiority that you wonder whether they might start to regard McIlroy as the new monster on the world’s best golf courses.