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Rory McIlroy should Shoot for the Stars

August 21st, 2009 · 2 Comments

A pro who aspires to become a Tom Watson (8 majors – first at 25), Arnold Palmer (7 majors – first at 28), or Nick Faldo (6 majors – first at 30), has got until their late twenties to early thirties to board the majors winning train.

Pro’s who “only” wish to become multiple major winners have got all of the time in the world. Mark O’Meara joined the club at age 41 when he won two majors, Phil Mickelson won his first at 33, Angel Cabrera at 37, and Padraig Harrington at 34.

If, however, a golfer aspires to become the Best Ever, he’s got to get on the train early and stay on the fast track, so to speak. It’s no different than home run hitters who hope to surpass Barry Bonds’ 762 home runs. Folks, that’s 38 a year for 20 years. Alex Rodriguez started his quest with 36 homers at age 20, has 574 and is 34. If he keeps hitting them at his career rate, he could set the new record at age 39, his 20th full season.

The exceptionally demanding criteria for identifying Best Ever candidates quickly eliminates the pretenders. If a player has not won a major by age 22-23, he’s probably blown his chance. Every year is precious, and the best have been phenoms who won early and kept on winning. Included are Walter Hagen, who won his first of 11 majors (or 16 if you count the Western Open, which was a major at the time) at 21, Jack Nicklaus (22), and Tiger Woods (21).

If a player gets off to a slow start, they will likely need to win majors well into their forties. Though Nicklaus picked off one at age 46, his winning was mostly done by age 40 when he won his seventeenth. To those who say golfers of today are physically more able to withstand the rigors of the chase, I say: 1) The best won early, which is just another measure of their greatness – call it the Genius Factor; 2) Playing well in your forties is one thing, winning majors is another. In the Wood Era, only 3 of 52 majors have been won by players in forties – O’Meara and Vijay Singh were both 41. While the body is willing, past 40 the nerves are increasingly not (Nicklaus has a detailed explanation for this).

So, if a player hopes to become the Best Ever, his bar is set at a generous 23. Start winning majors and then keep winning by then, or it’s too late.

Which brings us to young Rory McIlroy, the subject this and my last post. When I wrote it, I was under the impression that he was that once in a generation mega talent that could, and would take a run at the top spot. In Jaime Diaz’s excellent piece in Golf World, Stephen Ames has this to say about Rory’s swing: “It’s up there in the class of Tiger at the same age, one of those five-times-in-a-century kind of things.”  Echoes Diaz, among others: “… once he grips a club, McIlroy can’t hide his talent”

In short, his talent runs circles around much ballyhooed prospects such as Jason Day and Anthony Kim. Given his potential you’ve got to wonder why he would not throw his hat in the ring and shoot for the stars. Nicklaus and Woods did, and look what it got them – the top two spots on any sensible rankings of Golf’s All Time Greatest.

They both believed big, and they achieved big.

Yes, golf wants to believe that McIlroy is of that mold because the prospect of another candidate for Best Ever so relatively soon after Woods arrival is so enthralling, and because Tiger, at 33, is in desperate need of a rival, Yang’s triumph notwithstanding.

Rory has the swing. He won on the European Tour at age 19. And he earned third in a major at age 20. The pieces seemed to all be in place. And then I read the Diaz’ article and I began to doubt if he really is the next big thing because Rory’s mindset is out of whack:

“I never want to set myself a time frame when I would want to win one, because you look at Sergio Garcia. If he has not won a major, it’s obviously very difficult to win one. It’s not as easy as Tiger makes it look sometimes.”

Yikes! Difficult to win even one? How is a phenom ever going to get to 18 or 20 if he thinks one is so tough. Okay, it’s not easy, but it’s not impossible. Nicklaus, Woods, Player, Watson and Palmer have proven that. Indeed, if a player is a Best Ever prospect, the top five on the leaderboard is his birthright, and a place where the wins come in drove.

The last person McIlroy should be thinking about is Garcia who, at age 30, is golf’s biggest underachiever.  He should heed the words of Nicklaus, who said the majors were the easiest to win because most of the field thinks they can’t win, unlike at regular tour events.

As if Rory’s attitude were not bad enough, it is being reinforced by Gerry McIlroy, his father, who says, “These are still early days. Naturally Rory wants it right now, but I always tell him, ‘Slow down, there’s a lot of time.’ ”

Yes there is plenty of time if he wants his son to join the second tier of greatness. But if Rory wants to take his one and only shot at becoming the Best Ever, he should try like hell to board the majors train ASAP. And should he win one, he should let success go to his head. Let it build that career momentum that is mandatory for stockpiling majors.

Think big Rory. Forget about Garcia and dear old, well meaning, Dad. Believe in yourself – that’s what mind gurus like Wayne Dyer or Tony Robbins would tell him. They would fill his head with impossible dreams, and he would believe he could achieve them. That’s the only way it can happen. It all starts with belief.

So Rory, take your best shot. Anything less and you could look back and wonder in your quiet moments years from now just what you were thinking when you squandered your big chance with a belief system that betrayed your talent. Just go for it like Jack and Tiger did.

I hope Rory does it, for himself and the game. But if it turns out that Rory is not the man, who’s next?

Let’s see … there’s this kid in Japan…

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 MikeZ // Aug 21, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    Phil,

    I, too, am very excited about McIlroy’s prospects. But I wouldn’t worry too much about his mindset. Here’s another article (http://www.golf.com/golf/tours_news/article/0,28136,1914964,00.html) that suggests Rory rates just fine on the cockiness/confidence meter.

    In his autobiography, Nicklaus talks a lot about the need to believe you’re the best in the world, but he also talks about the importance of keeping that mostly inside. That’s part of what makes him so gracious, especially compared to Tiger. I suspect in the comments you cite McIlroy is just being respectful. I think inside he’s shaking his head at Sergio’s inability to capture a major – perhaps even consciously trying to keep expectations down and the pressure off – at least for a while!

  • 2 Phil // Aug 22, 2009 at 9:31 am

    Mike,

    Thanks for the link! Rory does send conflicting messages, and I hope his less optimistic ones are, indeed, a smokescreen to keep the media in check – though if he wins a major, heaven help him then. Rory and every aspiring pro should read the Nicklaus book – it’s an awesome course on the mental game.

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