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.”

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Murray fixes swing flaw, recovers momentum

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 2:24 am

SAN ANTONIO - Grayson Murray fixed a flaw in his swing and hit the ball well enough that blustery conditions weren't an issue for him Thursday in the Valero Texas Open.

Coming off a missed cut at Hilton Head last week, Murray made seven birdies for a 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead. His only mistake was a double bogey from a greenside bunker on the par-3 seventh hole.

''Just the fact I did give myself enough opportunities today for birdie, it took a lot of pressure off,'' Murray said.

Of the five players at 68, only Chesson Hadley played in the morning side of the draw, and he called it among his best rounds of the year because of gusts. The wind died in the afternoon and scoring improved slightly on the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio. Keegan Bradley, Ryan Moore, Billy Horschel and Matt Atkins each posted 68. Horschel and Moore played bogey-free.

''Struck the ball really well, something that we've been working hard on,'' Horschel said. ''Could have been better, yeah. I didn't really make anything out there today. But I'm happy with it.''

Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the course, played the Texas Open for the first time since 2010 and shot a 74. Adam Scott failed to make a birdie in his round of 75. Scott is at No. 59 in the world and needs to stay in the top 60 by May 21 to be exempt for the U.S. Open.

Harris English was in the group at 69, while two-time Texas Open champion Zach Johnson, Nick Watney and Brandt Snedeker were among those at 70. Johnson saved his round by going 5 under over his final five holes, starting with a 12-foot eagle putt on the par-5 14th hole. He birdied the last three.

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Murray was coming off a pair of top 15s at Bay Hill and the Houston Open when his game got away from him last week in the RBC Heritage, and he shot 74-70 to miss the cut. He got that sorted out in the five days between teeing it up in San Antonio.

He said he was coming down too steep, which meant he would flip his hands and hit a sharp draw or pull out of it and hit it short and right.

''I was hitting each club 10 yards shorter than I normally do, and you can't play like that because your caddie is trying to give you a number and a club, and you keep hitting these bad shots or keep coming up short,'' Murray said. ''I got back to the basics with the setup and the takeaway, got my club in a better position at the top, which kind of frees my downswing. Then I can start going at it.''

Even so, Murray thought he wasted his good start - three birdies in his first six holes - when his bunker shot at No. 7 came out with no spin and rolled off the green into a deep swale. He hit his third short to about 7 feet, but missed the putt and took double bogey.

''I would have loved to limit that to a bogey because bogeys don't really kill you - doubles are the ones that now you've got to have an eagle or two birdies to come back with, and out here it's kind of tough to make birdies,'' Murray said. ''But I kept my head. My caddie keeps me very positive out there, that's why I think we could finish 4 under the last nine holes.''

Only 34 players in the 156-man field managed to break par.

Horschel missed four birdie chances inside 18 feet on the back nine. What pleased him the most was the way he struck the ball, particularly after his tie for fifth last week at the RBC Heritage. Horschel was one shot behind going into the last round and closed with a 72.

But he's all about momentum, and he can only hope this is the start of one of his runs. Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014 when he finished second and won the final two playoff events.

''I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward,'' he said. ''I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump in that winner's circle.''

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LPGA back in L.A.: Inbee Park leads by 1

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 1:53 am

LOS ANGELES - Inbee Park's flirtation with retirement is in the rear-view mirror.

Backed by a large contingent of South Korean fans, Park shot a 5-under 66 for a one-shot lead Thursday in the opening round of the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open in the LPGA's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.

Showers ended shortly before Park's threesome, including second-ranked Lexi Thompson, teed off at windy Wilshire Country Club just south of Hollywood.

Using a new putter, Park birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine before a bogey on the par-4 17th. She quickly recovered and rolled in birdie putts on the second and fifth holes to finish off her round.

''I never played a tournament outside Korea having this much Korean supporters out,'' Park said. ''I almost feel like I'm playing back home. It's almost like a little Korea.''

That applies to the food, too, with nearby Koreatown's restaurants beckoning.

''Too many,'' Park said.

The third-ranked Park banished the blade-style putter she used in her Founders Cup victory last month in Phoenix, a playoff loss in the ANA Inspiration and a tie for third last week in Hawaii. She went back to one that feels more comfortable and has brought her success in the past.

''Last week was just an awkward week where I missed a lot of short ones and I just wasn't really comfortable with the putter,'' Park said, ''so I just wanted to have a different look.''

The 29-year-old Hall of Famer recently said she was 50-50 about retiring before returning to the tour in early March after a six-month break. Momentum has been going her way ever since.

Marina Alex was second. Thompson was one of seven players at 68 in partly sunny and unseasonable temperatures in the low 60s.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

Alex tied Park with a birdie on No. 11. The American dropped a stroke with a bogey on the par-5 13th before rallying with a birdie on No. 14 to share the lead.

Alex found trouble on the par-4 17th. Her ball crossed over a winding creek, bounced and then rolled into the water, leaving Alex looking for it. Eventually, she salvaged a bogey to drop a shot behind Park. After a bad tee shot on 18, Alex managed a par to close at 67.

''I made a lot of the putts that I shouldn't, I wouldn't have expected to make,'' she said. ''I made two great saves on 17 and 18. Kind of got away with some not-so-solid golf shots in the beginning, and I capitalized on some great putts.''

Thompson returned from a two-week break after finishing tied for 20th at the ANA Inspiration, the year's first major.

She bogeyed her second hole, the par-4, 401-yard 11th, before settling down and birdieing four of the next eight holes, including the 14th, 15th and 16th.

''I changed a little thing that slipped my mind that I was working on earlier in the year,'' said Thompson, declining to share the change in her putting technique. ''I don't want to jinx it.''

ANA winner Pernilla Lundberg was among those in the logjam after a 68.

Natalie Gulbis was among five players tied for 10th at 69. Playing sparingly the last two years, Gulbis put together a round that included four birdies and two bogeys.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng struggled to a 74 with five bogeys and two birdies.

The venerable course with views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory wasn't any kinder to eighth-ranked Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie.

Both had up-and-down rounds that included three bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 10 for Kerr and five bogeys, including three in a row, for Wie. Wie, ranked 14th, had a few putts that lipped out.

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Horschel (68) builds on momentum at Valero

By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 12:32 am

Billy Horschel only ever needs to see a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

While some players require a slow ascent from missed cuts to contending on the weekend, Horschel's switches between the two can often be drastic. Last year he missed three straight cuts before defeating Jason Day in a playoff to win the AT&T Byron Nelson, a turnaround that Horschel said "still shocks me to this day."

The veteran is at it again, having missed five of six cuts prior to last week's RBC Heritage. But a few tweaks quickly produced results, as Horschel tied for fifth at Harbour Town. He wasted no time in building on that momentum with a bogey-free, 4-under 68 to open the Valero Texas Open that left him one shot behind Grayson Murray.

"I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward," Horschel told reporters Thursday. "I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump into the winner's circle. So yeah, it would have been great to win last week, but it was just nice to play four really good rounds of golf."

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Many big names tend to skip this week's stop at TPC San Antonio, but Horschel has managed to thrive on the difficult layout in recent years. He finished third in both 2013 and 2015, and tied for fourth in 2016.

With a return next week to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans where he notched his first career win in 2013 and a title defense in Dallas on the horizon, Horschel believes he's turning things around at just the right time.

"Gets the momentum going, carry it into this week, next week, which I've had a lot of success at," Horschel said. "Really the rest of the year, from here on in I have a lot of really good events I've played well in."

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Three years later, PXG launches new iron

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 19, 2018, 11:22 pm

Three years is a long time between launches of club lines, but Bob Parsons, founder and CEO of PXG, says his company had a very good reason for waiting that long to introduce its second-generation irons.

“Three years ago, when we introduced our first generation 0311 iron, we made a commitment that we would not release a product unless it was significantly better than our existing product,” Parsons said. “:Our GEN2 irons are better than our GEN1 irons in every respect. We believe it’s the best iron ever made, and the second-best iron ever made is our GEN1 iron.”

PXG’s 0311 GEN2 irons, which officially went on sale today, feature what the company says is the world’s thinnest clubface. They have a forged 8620 soft carbon steel body and PXG’s signature weighting technology. The hollow clubheads are filled with a new polymer material that PXG says not only dampens vibration, but also produces higher ball speeds and thus more distance.

The irons come in four “collections” – Tour Performance, Players, Xtreme Forgiveness and Super Game Improvement.

Cost is $400 per iron, or $500 for PXG’s “Extreme Dark” finish. Price includes custom fitting. For more information, visit