McIlroy learning to deal with increased spotlight

By Jason SobelMarch 4, 2013, 7:00 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Someone needs to explain this one to me.

When Rory McIlroy won the U.S. Open by eight strokes two years ago, he did so under a probing microscope with all of the attention focused solely on him. Same for when he won last year’s Honda Classic and became the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer for the first time. And again at the PGA Championship, where he also won by eight with even more eyeballs watching his every maneuver.

Yet this past week, when McIlroy scrambled away from PGA National without even finishing his ninth hole in the second round of the Honda, citing severe tooth pain that affected his concentration, there was a prevailing feeling that he was struggling to handle the pressure in an appropriate manner. The pressure of being No. 1; the pressure of living up to the standards of his mammoth new Nike Golf contract; the pressure of the media’s watchful eye.

How quickly we forget.


Posnanski: McIlroy facing crippling pressure of being No. 1


It may have been a mistake to walk off mid-round – check that, it was a mistake – but this was clearly more isolated incident than repeated pattern. If the 23-year-old has proven anything in recent years, it’s that the maturity level of his golf game may be surpassed only by his maturity level as a person.

Let’s face it: He not only survives in the spotlight, he thrives in it.

Even so, McIlroy’s recent withdrawal has placed a spotlight on the spotlight, so to speak, drawing attention to all of the attention that he draws on a daily basis. There are very few people who will ever understand what it’s like to live in that spotlight – and even fewer who understand what it’s like to try to hit a golf ball in it. Those who do contend that it’s only natural for McIlroy to wrestle with the notion at times.

“I've been through it for a long time,” Tiger Woods said. “This is a slightly different era, as well. It's even faster than what it was when I came out. Things are instantaneous around the world.”

“Tiger grew up with it since he was a child,” explains Martin Kaymer. “All the media, all the attention. But for the rest of us, it’s not normal. It really takes some time.”

Kaymer is a perfect example of a player who has shied away from that spotlight. After climbing the world ranking and even winning a major championship in relative mainstream anonymity, he became No. 1 early in the 2011 season and immediately learned about life in that bubble.

“Everything you do, everything you say all of a sudden becomes very important. You’re not really used to that,” Kaymer continues. “He should enjoy being here and I don’t think that he’s doing that at the moment. It’s very tough when someone is that young in the spotlight. Obviously, he made it himself because of his success, but on the other hand, people should take it a little bit easier or else we might lose him. He’s such a great player. Now he’s going through a tough time and has to find his own way to deal with it.”

Ask any elite player and he will contend that the pressure intensifies as the profile grows. Internal pressure, yes, but external pressure as well. In particular, it’s the media scrutiny which can force second-guessing and confidence loss and myriad other residual issues.

“He’s so young and I think the media makes it tough for him,” Kaymer says. “There are more expectations, because of you guys. It’s true. Media and the Facebook and the Twitter; it all makes a difference. Even if you try to avoid it, sometimes you get confronted by it. You hear different opinions even though you don’t ask for them. It does happen and it does make a difference to your attitude. That’s just how it is. It’s not very nice. He’s 23 years old. He should enjoy playing golf, not having to deal with all that crap.”

“It must be so tough,” said Charl Schwartzel, who tasted his share of the attention after winning the 2011 Masters. “All he wants to do is play golf and everyone is all over him and bothering him. The guy just wants to play golf. I feel sorry for him.”

“We were still in fax machines, things were a little bit slower,” Woods recalls about being a 23-year-old superstar. “You've just got to think about it a little bit more before you say something or do something. It can get out of hand, especially when you get into social media and start tweeting and all those different things that can go wrong.”

There aren’t many fellow players who know McIlroy as well as Graeme McDowell, a friend and countryman who has also served as a de facto big brother over the years. He has witnessed firsthand the omnipresent surveillance that continually follows him.

“You know, it’s a lot to deal with for a young kid,” McDowell admits. “He’s surprised me a lot the last couple of years, how he’s taken this in stride winning two major championships, world No. 1. He’s really taken it in stride unbelievably well. But something’s got to give. It’s just not that easy dealing with thoughts inside your head, trying to play for other people, trying to prove things to other people.”

All of which leads to the original conundrum: Did McIlroy’s poor decision at the Honda happen because of that increased pressure? Or did the pressure increase because of his poor decision?

When in doubt with such golf-related questions, we can do a lot worse than listen to Jack Nicklaus. Another man who has served as a mentor of sorts to McIlroy, the 18-time major champion owns keen insight on what it takes to balance proper decisions both inside the ropes and out.

“He shouldn’t have walked off the golf course; that was unfortunate,” Nicklaus maintains. “If he had thought about it for five minutes, he wouldn’t have done it. I think he’s a good kid, a sharp kid. I think he’s probably just so frustrated with what’s happening with the way he’s played the last month or so that it just got to him.”

The Golden Bear contended that, “When the Masters rolls around, Rory McIlroy is going to be playing just fine,” but knowledge about the game doesn’t always translate into successful soothsaying. And so we’re left guessing and predicting, constantly attempting to interpret how every machination could affect his impending prospects.

Meanwhile, the superstars – from McIlroy to any number of household names – try to refrain from paying attention to the attention. They live in cocoons, wrapped so tightly the outside world sometimes can’t get in. Other times, though, that pressure is too much to contain. It seeps in, eating at them. It can destroy confidence and hurt performance.

Is this what happened to McIlroy this past week? Did the pressure become too much that he simply had to crawl back into that cocoon? I don’t think so. I don’t believe that a player who has lived in the spotlight for this long suddenly gets exposed by the microscope.

What I do believe is that it’s at least now an issue. A boy wonder who rarely flailed in the face of so many eyeballs is now being questioned as to whether he can handle the spotlight. And the only thing that will make the conversation dissipate is a quick and easy return to the leaderboard.

“He really just needs to get a couple of decent rounds under his belt and away he’ll go,” McDowell thinks. “But until then, there’s going to be a lot of inner talk and a lot of distraction in his head. It’s only a matter of time. But it’s a distraction. There’s no doubt about that. It’s not as easy as he’s made the game look these last couple of years.”

Day finishes strong, leads Aussie Open by one

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 25, 2017, 6:12 am

Jason Day birdied three of his final five holes to take a one-stroke lead into the final round of the Emirates Australian Open. Here’s where things stand in Sydney:

Leaderboard: Day (-10), Lucas Herbert (-9), Jonas Blixt (-7), Matt Jones (-7), Cameron Smith (-6), Rhein Gibson (-5), Anthony Quayle (-5)

What it means: Day has a great shot at his first victory – in his final start – in 2017. It’s been a frustrating campaign for Day, who has dropped to 12th in the Official World Golf Ranking. A win this week, in his native Open, would be a huge boost as he embarks on the 2018 season.


Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open


Round of the day: Day’s 2-under 69 wasn’t the lowest of the day, but it was the most important. Day parred his first 13 holes before birdies on Nos. 14 and 15. He bogeyed the 17th, but finished with a birdie at the par-5 18th for the outright lead.

Best of the rest: Blixt’s 66 put him in position to win. Meanwhile, Japanese amateur Takumi Kanaya shot the low round of the day, a 6-under 65, to reach 4 under for the tournament.

Biggest disappointment: No one really blew it on Saturday, but Jordan Spieth was unable to make a move. His 1-under 70 has him eight shots off the lead. Herbert managed an even-par 71 but he had a two-stroke lead until an errant tee shot at the par-3 11th. Speaking of which …

Shot of the day: Not every Shot of the Day is a great shot. Herbert made a long birdie putt on the eighth and was two clear of the field through 10 holes. But he hit his tee shot long at the 11th and was not able to find it. He had to re-tee, made double bogey and lost his advantage. He’s now chasing a major champion in the final round.

Spieth stalls on Moving Day at Australian Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 25, 2017, 4:30 am

Moving Day? Not so much for Jordan Spieth in Round 3 of the Emirates Australian Open.

Spieth, the defending champion and also a winner in 2014, continued to struggle with his putter, shooting 1-under 70 on Saturday at the Australian Golf Club in Sydney.

“I was leaving them short yesterday and today it was kind of misreading, over-reading. I missed a lot of putts on the high side – playing wind or more break,” he said. “I just really haven’t found a nice marriage between line and speed to get the ball rolling.”


Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open


The world No. 2 started the day eight off the pace and was unable to make a charge. He had three birdies and two bogeys, including a 4 at the par-5 finishing hole.

Spieth praised his ball-striking in the wind-swept conditions, but lamented his putting, which has hampered him throughout the week.

“Ball-striking’s been fantastic. Just gotta get the putts to go,” he said.

Spieth, who is scheduled to compete in next week’s Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, is still holding out hope for a third title in four years at this event. He fired a brilliant 63 in very windy conditions to prevail in ’14.

“Tomorrow is forecasted as even windier than today so you can still make up a lot of ground,” he said. “A few years ago I shot a final round that was a nice comeback and anything like that tomorrow can still even be enough to possibly get the job done.”

South Korean LPGA stars lead KLPGA team

By Randall MellNovember 24, 2017, 10:32 pm

South Korea’s LPGA team of all-stars took the early lead Friday on the Korean LPGA Tour in a team event featuring twice as much star power as this year’s Solheim Cup did.

Eight of the world’s top 20 players are teeing it up in the ING Life Champions Trophy/ Inbee Park Invitational in Gyeongju. There were only four players among the top 20 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings when the United States defeated Europe in Des Moines, Iowa.

Park led the LPGA team to a 3 ½-to-2 ½ lead on the first day.

Park, who has been recuperating from a back injury for most of the second half of this season, teamed with Jeongeun Lee5 to defeat Hye Jin Choi and Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4, in the lead-off four-ball match.

So Yeon Ryu and Park, former world No. 1s and LPGA Rolex Player of the Year Award winners, will be the marquee pairing on Saturday. They will lead off foursomes against Ji Young Kim and Min Sun Kim.

Nine of the 11 South Koreans who won LPGA events this year are competing. Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim are the only two who aren’t.

The fourball results:

LPGA’s Inbee Park/ Jeongeun Lee5 def. Hye Jin Choi/Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4.

LPGA’s Mirim Lee/Amy Yang def.  Ji Hyun Oh/Min Sun Kim, 3 and 1.

LPGA’s M.J. Hur/Mi Hyang Lee halved Ji Hyun Kim/Ji Young Kim.

KLPGA’s Ha Na Jang/Sun Woo Bae def. Sei Young Kim/Hyo Joo Kim, 5 and 4.

LPGA’s Na Yeon Choi/Jenny Shin halved Jin Young Ko/Da Yeon Lee

LPGA’s In Gee Chun/Eun Hee Ji halved Jeongeun Lee6/Char Young Kim.

NOTE: The KPGA uses numerals after a player’s name to distinguish players with the exact same name.

 

Cut Line: Lyle faces third bout with cancer

By Rex HoggardNovember 24, 2017, 5:40 pm

In this week’s holiday edition, Cut Line is thankful for the PGA Tour’s continued progress on many fronts and the anticipation that only a Tiger Woods return can generate.

Made Cut

The Fighter. That was the headline of a story Cut Line wrote about Jarrod Lyle following his second bout with cancer a few years ago, so it’s both sad and surreal to see the affable Australian now bracing for a third fight with leukemia.

Lyle is working as an analyst for Channel 7’s coverage of this week’s Emirates Australian Open prior to undergoing another stem cell transplant in December.

“I’ve got a big month coming,” Lyle said. “I’m back into hospital for some really heavy-duty treatment that’s really going to determine how things pan out for me.”

Twice before things have panned out for Lyle. Let’s hope karma has one more fight remaining.

Changing times. Last season the PGA Tour introduced a policy to add to the strength of fields, a measure that had long eluded officials and by most accounts was a success.

This season the circuit has chosen to tackle another long-standing thorn, ridiculously long pro-am rounds. While there seems little the Tour can do to speed up play during pro-am rounds, a new plan called a 9&9 format will at least liven things up for everyone involved.

Essentially, a tournament hosting a pro-am with four amateurs can request the new format, where one professional plays the first nine holes and is replaced by another pro for the second nine.

Professionals will have the option to request 18-hole pro-am rounds, giving players who limit practice rounds to just pro-am days a chance to prepare, but otherwise it allows Tour types to shorten what is an admittedly long day while the amateurs get a chance to meet and play with two pros.

The new measure does nothing about pace of play, but it does freshen up a format that at times can seem tired, and that’s progress.

Tweet of the week: @Love3d (Davis Love III‏) “Thanks to Dr. Flanagan (Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center) for the new hip and great care! Can’t wait to get back to (the PGA Tour).”

Love offered the particularly graphic tweet following hip replacement surgery on Tuesday, a procedure that he admitted he’d delayed because he was “chicken.”

The surgery went well and Love is on pace to return to the Tour sometime next spring. As for the possibility of over-sharing on social media, we’ll leave that to the crowd.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Distance control. The Wall Street Journal provided the octagon for the opening blows of a clash that has been looming for a long time.

First, USGA executive director Mike Davis told The Journal that the answer to continued distance gains may be a restricted-flight golf ball with an a la carte rule that would allow different organizations, from the Tour all the way down to private clubs, deciding which ball to use.

“You can’t say you don’t care about distance, because guess what? These courses are expanding and are predicted to continue to expand,” Davis said. “The impact it has had has been horrible.”

A day later, Wally Uihlein, CEO of Acushnet, which includes the Titleist brand, fired back in a letter to The Journal, questioning among other things how distance gains are putting a financial burden on courses.

“The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate,” Uihlein wrote.

For anyone paying attention the last few years, this day was inevitable and the likely start of what will be a drawn out and heated process, but Cut Line’s just not sure anyone wins when it’s over.

Tiger, take II. Tiger Woods’ return to competition next week at the Hero World Challenge was always going to generate plenty of speculation, but that hyperbole reached entirely new levels this week as players began giving personal accounts of the new and improved 14-time major champion.

“I did talk to him, and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years,’” Day said as he prepared for the Australian Open. “If he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.”

Rickie Fowler added to the frenzy when he was asked this month if the rumors that Woods is driving the ball by him, by 20 to 30 yards by some reports, are true?

“Oh, yeah,” he told Golf.com. “Way by.”

Add to all this a recent line that surfaced in Las Vegas that Woods is now listed at 20-1 to win a major in 2018, and it seems now may be a good time for a restraint.

Golf is better with Woods, always has been and always will be, but it may be best to allow Tiger time to find out where his body and game are before we declare him back.


Missed Cut

Searching for answers. Twelve months ago, Hideki Matsuyama was virtually unstoppable and, regardless of what the Official World Golf Ranking said, arguably the best player on the planet.

Now a year removed from that lofty position, which featured the Japanese star finishing either first or second in six of his seven starts as the New Year came and went, Matsuyama has faded back to fifth in the world and on Sunday finished fifth, some 10 strokes behind winner Brooks Koepka, at the Dunlop Phoenix.

“That hurt,” Matsuyama told the Japan Times. “I don’t know whether it’s a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well. It seems there are many issues to address.”

Since his last victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Matsuyama has just two top-10 finishes on Tour and he ended his 2016-17 season with a particularly poor performance at the Presidents Cup.

While Matsuyama’s take seems extreme considering his season, there are certainly answers that need answering.