The Open: Rory McIlroy should give himself a break, says David Livingstone
Last Updated: 21/07/19 7:11am
After Rory McIlroy made an emotional early exit from The 148th Open in front of his home fans, David Livingstone is left wondering: "Where does he go from here?"
Everyone is asking "What now for Tiger Woods" but I'm asking myself the same question about Rory McIlroy.
The emotional scenes of Friday evening as the fans tried to will him into the weekend will never be forgotten and the tears in Rory's eyes when he talked to Tim Barter after his round were a measure of how much the occasion meant to him.
There are no asterisks in the record books but perhaps the MC after the name R McIlroy for the 2019 Open Championship could be bent into any acronym you think is appropriate. "Mea Culpa" springs to mind but perhaps the simplest and kindest would be "missed chance".
A special opportunity is gone for Rory to re-establish himself as the world's best golfer in front of his own people. The people of Portrush and Ireland had turned out to acclaim and celebrate their young son, but they unwittingly created a pressure that was too much for him.
On day one, what happened on the first hole was bewildering but excusable because of the emotion of the occasion. The trouble is there were no such mitigating circumstances when he missed a tap-in on the 16th. By his own admission, it was careless and a result of a loss of concentration.
That was the mistake that triggered serious questions about where Rory goes from here. Golf Channel's Paul Azinger suggested Rory needed a different mindset for majors rather than his chosen approach of just treating them like any other tournament.
The Daily Mail's Martin Samuel, with some clever journalistic licence, wondered whether Van Morrison would come back to a hometown concert in Belfast and forget the words to Brown Eyed Girl.
What happened on Friday was a different story and it was enthralling to watch, but the harsh truth is we were watching arguably the best player in the world trying to make the cut. All Rory's hard work and effort in 2019 to get back to the top of the game, to win the Masters, to win The Open, was cruelly dismissed by first-round failure in front of his own people.
In the days leading up to the championship, the majority of experts talked positively about how consistent Rory had become as if that would somehow help him win an event that calls for brilliance and imagination and confidence in equal measure.
Cynics like me thought back to a memorable quote from Rory's fellow Irish major champion Padraig Harrington.
"Consistency is overrated," said a philosophical Padraig in response to a compliment about how steady his game was. It's an issue Rory touched on himself early in the week when he said: "I suppose some people would say it's better to miss a few cuts but win more of the big ones…"
Rory has worked so hard, listened so much, read so much, and talked about it all to the point of exhaustion. Sometimes, it feels as though he should just give himself a break.
Well, he now has nine months to think about that and to consider what he does with his prodigious talent in the years ahead. It's tough to say, but he can win all the regular tournaments he wants and record a top-10 finish every week but the noise won't stop until he wins another major.
There is plenty of golf to be played before the end of the year and many questions to be addressed about his commitment to the European Tour and the Ryder Cup. But all that will be easy compared to the pressure that will once again build in the weeks and months before the Masters.
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So what does he do?
Does he stick with his mantra of not being defined as a person by how many majors he wins? Does he look back and perhaps question what he told the Guardian the week before the Masters: "I don't need to fill a void in my life by winning majors. I don't have that void."
Might he just wonder if all that sounds a bit defensive, almost anticipating criticism for not caring enough? Maybe it shows, if anything, that Rory cares too much. He has worked so hard, listened so much, read so much, and talked about it all to the point of exhaustion. Sometimes, it feels as though he should just give himself a break.
There is so much advice and coaching available to Rory McIlroy you'd think he would be able to get everything together in time for the four months of majors starting in April next year.
Maybe he will, maybe he won't but, in the meantime, the only advice a layman like me could offer is to enjoy life and get into the habit of watching old videos of himself winning majors. Look at that confident, freestyle young buck and let him inspire a somewhat hesitant thirty-something to cut loose and rediscover himself.That's surely enough to erase the painful memories of day one at Royal Portrush and stop Rory worrying too much about what others think.