Rory McIlroy: An Old Soul

The first round of the PGA Championship got underway Thursday at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, South Carolina, and an interesting thing happened. All the dire forecasts for thunderstorms went the way of other whispers and rumors; there weren’t any.

And so as a consequence, the best players in the world got a pretty good head start on their primary goal; to survive the Ocean Course until Sunday night.

Leading the pack was Carl Pettersson who shot a flawless 6-under, 66. Ho hum. It was kind of try to go for it, look around to see where you are, bear down.

I knew early on because there was no wind the first few holes, I knew it was gettable today.  I think I saw the first leaderboard around No.3 or 4, and there was a bunch of guys 2‑, 3‑under, so I knew it was scorable.

That’s why it was important to shoot a good one today.  I didn’t quite see a 66 out there, but it was important to shoot under par today for sure.

One stroke behind him are four guys, the most notable being Rory McIlroy. His round was also flawless.

After his round, McIlroy held forth in the media center again. My own experience with him in the media center is that there are few players who are any more candid and therefor, interesting. So here are his best answers that relate to mastery issues, beginning with this one that reiterates his comments from Wednesday that he was spending too much time on the range.

The good play recently, is it more of a mental game adjustment or something physical in your game, a slight modification to technique?

A little bit of both.  I was working very hard on technical stuff for the last few weeks, and then a slight mental adjustment, as well.  I felt like I was maybe hitting too many balls on the range; I just needed to go out there and play a bit more on the course and see shots.

To be honest, it’s a little bit of both.  But I definitely think that last week gave me a good bit of confidence, and that was something I could take into here.

His next answer gives us hope that bad rounds aren’t just happening to us.

You’ve shown a sort of unpredictability from one round to the next on many occasions; is that just a product of youth or does that reflect an aggressive attitude that you still need to adapt to major championship golf?

I don’t think so.  I think it’s — you know, I don’t really know what to put it down to.  I think you’ve seen in the past, it’s tough for guys to follow up a very good round with another solid round.  You see it all the time, someone shoots 66 and then they will do well to break 70 the next day.  Just the way golf is.

Yeah, I’ve had my fair share of starts where I’ve started well and I’ve had a couple of bad rounds and stuff.  I think that’s just golf.  You get weeks where you’re feeling good and you’re playing well, and you’re just able to keep rolling and continue the momentum from one day to the next and hopefully that’s one of these weeks.

This next one is interesting because Dave Stockton, former Ryder Cup captain and now putting guru, offers an opinion on why McIlroy has such a stable disposition; he has an old soul.

Talking to Dave Stockton the other day, he reckoned you’re the oldest 23‑year‑old he’s ever known; the sparkle you’ve got in your game since seeing Dave last week and this week, how beneficial has he been?

It’s been great.  I worked with Dave a little bit in Akron last week.  I know we made a slight adjustment to my routine and my stroke, and it made a huge difference last week.  I felt so much better on the greens than I did at The Open.

He sort of just said to me, “You know, just go out there and have fun and enjoy it and smile.”  That’s something that I’ve really tried to do the last two weeks, and it’s definitely helped.

In this next answer, McIlroy explains what many people forget to do, keep the human machinery functioning. Think about what the triathletes go through as their ordeal draws to a close. Golf is nowhere near that bad, but even it was just five percent of that, that’s enough to cloud the mind and sap the body’s energy.

Could you explain what it’s like to play five hours in such intense heat with that humidity and how much you’re eating and drinking just to survive?

It’s tough, it is.  It’s hot.  That’s why I was going to go out and play nine holes yesterday afternoon but I just decided not to just to conserve a little bit of energy and make sure I was ready to go this morning.

Yeah, you’re drinking a lot; you’re just trying to stay hydrated.  I think when it’s this hot, as well, you sort of don’t really get that hungry.  I think I had one energy bar out there but that was it.  It’s just more about taking enough fluids on board to keep you going throughout the round.

McIlroy has already been crowned the Prince of the Natural Swings for his flowing, natural motion. He was at his best when he won the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club by eight strokes. It seemed like that swing could never break down.

You’ve had people telling you what a wonderful technique you have; how difficult is it now to accept at this stage of your career that there may be flaws there?

I don’t think there’s any player that’s ever played the game that there has not been flaws in their game or there has not been tendencies.

I think it’s just about living with those and making sure that those tendencies don’t get too far away from where they should be.  But yeah, everyone falls back into the same bad habits from time to time, and that’s something that I’ve done a little bit this year.  But I think — I really think that’s unavoidable in golf.  It’s hard to wake up feeling the exact same every day, and some days you wake up and you feel more comfortable with a shot than you did the day before, and that’s just something you have to handle.

The following excellent question tried to get at the heart of the magic formula for winning golf tournaments and McIlroy did his best in the limited time that he had. But I think this is the condensed version for public consumption. The complete answer lies well beyond this and is probably worthy of a big, fat book.

When you have thought about what you need to do to give yourself a chance on a Sunday in a major again, do you focus on something mental or technical or attitude?  What’s mostly been the focus?

Yeah, you have to have the right attitude going out there.  You have to realize that to give yourself a chance going into the final day of a major, there’s still 54 holes to play, and especially on this golf course, middles of greens are totally okay.  Every time you hit it in the middle of the green here, you’re going to have a chance [for birdie], especially the way the greens are rolling.  For me, it’s just about giving myself as many chances as possible, playing conservatively when I need to, and then knowing the right times when to be aggressive.

Friday will be a different day weatherwise. The winds will finally be up and the forecast is for scattered thunderstorms. Now that will present a very interesting day for everybody.

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