I was sitting and thinking (sometimes I just sit) about Rory McIlroy the other day. I was thinking about his tearful interview at the Ryder Cup, when he seemed utterly distraught about the fact he couldn’t turn on a tap and play well. Then, three weeks later, he won the CJ Cup in Las Vegas.
That’s when I started thinking (took your time, says my wife). I was thinking about McIlroy’s standing in the game and how he might be remembered. And I was thinking about how hard it must be to grow up in public. And I was thinking particularly about something he said after winning the CJ Cup.
‘There was a lot of reflection the past couple weeks and this is what I need to do. I just need to play golf, I need to simplify it, I need to just be me,’ he said. ‘For the past few months I was maybe trying to be someone else to try to get better and I sort of realised that being me is enough, and being me, I can do things like this.’
I really hope he takes those words to heart and remembers them in tough times. And I hope he realises that the vast majority of casual golfers would give their eyeteeth to be Rory for just one swing of the club. Just to know how it feels to hit a ball that far and that straight.
And here’s the point: McIlroy is 32 with, quite possibly, his best years ahead of him. What he’s already achieved is astonishing but we like to forget these things and complain that he doesn’t hole enough putts and hasn’t won a Major since 2014. Let me reel off a few stats.
The CJ Cup was McIlroy’s 20th win on the PGA Tour in his 205th start. It was also his 96th top 10. So, without getting pedantic in an actuarial manner, what that means is that about every 10th time he pegs it up he wins and he finishes in the top 10 every second time. Is it any wonder the cameras make sure they follow him at every tournament?
That 20th win guarantees him lifetime membership of the PGA Tour from next season, which will be his 15th.
‘So what?’ I hear you say. He’s a superstar and will always have a ticket to play. Tell that to Luke Donald. The Englishman was the world’s No 1-ranked golfer in 2011. He won his last tournament in 2012 and is outside the top 500 in the World Ranking. And who, pray tell, succeeded Donald at the top of the rankings? Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy’s 20th win elevates him to some fairly significant company – he is now 35th on the all-time list, alongside Hale Irwin, Doug Sanders and Greg Norman. That last name is germane, because I think Norman’s legacy is regarded as significantly less than it should have been. Put simply, he didn’t win enough Majors. Two Open Championships, to be precise.
It would be a travesty if McIlroy ended his career equally unfulfilled, but I think it’s highly unlikely. Instead, I think we will one day look back on the decade ahead and realise that a golfing god has walked among us.
Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
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