McIlroy needs conviction to reach true potential

By Joe PosnanskiJune 18, 2016, 2:35 am

OAKMONT, Pa. – The first Avengers has this glorious exchange between the villain, Loki, and Shield agent Phil Coulson. You will remember the scene: Things are at their bleakest for the Avengers, not least because Coulson is about to die.

 “You’re going to lose,” Agent Coulson says.

“Am I?” Loki says. “Your heroes are scattered. Your floating fortress falls from the sky. Where is my disadvantage?”

“You lack conviction,” Coulson says.

Rory McIlroy probably has the best A game in golf today. That is to say: If every single player on earth played their very best for one major championship tournament – with the caveat that we have no idea what Tiger Woods’ best would even look like – Rory McIlroy would probably win. In fact, he would probably win convincingly. Yes, of course, there are others who have blinding A games. Jason Day can overpower golf courses. Dustin Johnson can make the game look ridiculously easy (and did just that in the first round of the U.S. Open). Jordan Spieth can go for stretches where he never misses a putt.

But McIlroy … it’s almost surreal how good he is when he’s right. We’ve all seen it. We saw it in his eight-shot victory at the 2011 U.S. Open. We saw it in his eight-shot victory at the 2012 PGA Championship. The guy shot 17 under to win the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool, and he shot 22 under to win in Dubai and he once shot 62 in the final round to win at Quail Hollow. When he is locked in, truly locked in, he is the one guy out there who can make you think about vintage Woods or vintage Jack Nicklaus, the player who was so much better than anyone else that there was almost no point in even trying.

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But, there’s the rub. What made Tiger Tiger, what made Jack Jack, were not those days when they striped the ball down the heart of every fairway and knocked down flagsticks with their approach shots and made all the putts. What made those guys so great was that they won most of the time without their A games.

“How many of your 18 major championships would you say that you were not playing well?” I asked Nicklaus.

“At least a dozen of them,” he said.

This is the part McIlroy can’t quite get. When he’s on, forget it. And when he’s off, well, forget it. Since 2010, he’s won four major championships. He’s missed the cut at four major championships. He’s finished top 10 another seven times. He’s finished 25th or worse another five times. He’s on. He’s off. He’s dazzling. He’s lost. It’s a wicked ride with Rory McIlroy.

And more and more you get this sense that, yes, he lacks conviction.

Take this week. McIlroy came to the U.S. Open at Oakmont with a vivid plan to win at one of the world’s toughest golf courses. “You have to be so disciplined,” he said.

He talked about always hitting the ball to the proper spots. “You could go a whole round here without hitting at any pin,” he said.

He talked about being conservative. “I’m an aggressive player … there’s just going to be times where I’m going to have to rein it back a little.”

He talked about how much he has learned from experience. He’s not a kid anymore. “I think with experience, you learn what a good score is on that particular day,” he says. “Or, if you're not playing so well, [you learn] how to just grind it out and make pars and try to get it in the clubhouse at a respectable score. And I feel like just over the years I've learned how to do that a little bit better.”

And then, in the first round, under admittedly irritating conditions – starts and stops, weather delays, etc. – McIlroy shot a miserable 77. It was the eighth time he has shot 77 or worse at a major championship. His plan for scaling things back and hitting fairways and greens was, to put it mildly, a disaster. “I think I hit five fairways and eight greens out there,” he said despondently after the round. “Which, obviously, isn’t going to do anything.”

Then he said this: “With the way the golf course is, with it being so soft, I might just go out there in the second round and hit a lot of drivers and try to be as aggressive as I possibly can.”

OK, do you see that? Four days earlier, he went on about pulling back his aggression, reining things back, grinding it out. And then, after a bad round, he talked about cracking drivers and hoping for the best. Conviction. It seems to be the overwhelming hurdle for McIlroy.

Before the Masters began, he talked about how he eager he was to rise up to the challenge of the emerging Jordan Spieth. “It’s my job” he said of Spieth, “and Jason’s [Day] job and everyone else’s job to stop [Spieth] from dominating.” Then, when he was actually paired with the leader Spieth, he talked about how “I don’t even look at the names to the left of the leaderboard.”

A couple of years ago, he talked about wanting to insert some of Woods’ intensity into his own game. Then, shortly after that, he talked about how he did not want to be like Woods; he needed to be himself.

This is a common thing, of course, a young person trying to find what they are about. And, it’s easy to forget, McIlroy is a young man who just turned 27. Still: Golf is a game of conviction. It is a game of belief. Ask anyone: One of the things that made Arnold Palmer, Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Woods and others the very best in the world is that they believed it more deeply than anyone else. They felt destined to win because, hey, seriously, who could beat them?

But where do you get that sort of conviction? How do you build it? After the miserable first round, McIlroy went out to the driving range and worked on his swing for a long time.

“I think for me,” he says, “the toughest thing is just trying to stay positive and not get too down on myself and try to go out there … and try to play well and make it into the weekend. Yeah, I think right now I’m just trying to stay as positive as I can.”

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.