PGA Championship: Quiet approach may reap rewards for Rory McIlroy in quest for fifth Major
Every time a Major comes around, be it the Masters, the Open or this week at the PGA Championship, Rory McIlroy is perpetually in the conversation.
Since his last Major win, in 2014, no player boasts more top-10 finishes in Majors than the 17 that McIlroy has mustered.
On the surface, all has not looked well for the 34-year-old this past month. Having gone into the Masters in fine form and believing he could win the Green Jacket after shooting five-under on the back nine in his final practice, he ended up missing the cut.
So dejected was he that he made a costly — financially at least — decision to miss the RBC Heritage event to focus on his mental well-being. And he arrived at Oak Hill Country Club for his pre-tournament press conference far more muted than he has been in recent times. LIV Golf — against which he has been the PGA Tour’s spokesman in chief — was not for discussion.
Instead, he wanted talk to turn back to his golf, which has not been at its best since he teed off for the Masters. It led his former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, as erudite a voice in the game of golf as there is currently, to predict the Northern Irishman will not feature in the top order come Sunday of this event.
“It’s that expectation we saw at the Masters — everyone looking at him,” said McGinley. “The Masters has been a huge body blow. I wouldn’t say he’s on the floor, I’d say he’s on the ropes. I don’t expect him to play well this week.”
On the surface, this is not necessarily the perfect McIlroy course. The winner will likely score in single digits under par and could be forced to scrap their way around the course for much of the four days.
But McIlroy has done his due diligence in the tournament build-up. His wife, Erica, hails from nearby and he has been a regular visitor to the area over the years, playing the course since its more recent transformation.
His support team has been strengthened in the lead-up to the event. Unprompted, Tiger Woods called him last week to talk about his swing, the 15-time Major champion imparting his wisdom on what McIlroy needed to change. The suggestion was fine-tuning rather than any drastic overhaul.
At Oak Hill, quiet acceptance seems the better approach for Rory McIlroy
In any case, his game is clearly not that far off. Last season, McIlroy was the only player to finish in the top 10 of all four Majors. The Woods call was timely, McIlroy having been with his long-time swing coach Michael Bannon, who he flew over for last week and this to bring back a sense of familiarity to his game which has been missing of late.
His putting coach, Brad Faxon, has been with him too, but made the point the required focus was more in mind than body.
“He was asked what he was working on, his mental game, because this game is so mental, maybe more mental than anything else,” said Faxon. “He said, ‘I’m managing expectations’, which is really important.”
For his part, McIlroy talked about needing acceptance in his game should it not be where he expects it to be from the very off today.
“Golf can be an imposter and bring you back down to earth pretty quickly,” he said. “The best way to deal with that is not let yourself get to that level of expectation so early. My level of acceptance hasn’t probably been where it needs to be. If I work on that I know I’ll start to play really good golf pretty quickly.”
It is a wholly different approach to the Masters, where he skipped into Augusta fully believing completion of the Majors was on the cards. At Oak Hill, quiet acceptance seems the better approach.