Wednesday, November 18

Is Rory Ready for America?

Rory McIlroy at TPC Sawgrass. (LTBeyer/Flickr) 

Editor’s note: Brian Keogh is a golf correspondent for The Irish Sun and a regular contributor to The Irish Times, Golf Digest Ireland and other golf publications. The following piece is excerpted from his blog, Irish Golf Desk. 

By Brian Keogh

THE DEBATE HAS STARTED. Is Rory McIlroy making a mistake by joining the PGA Tour at this stage of his career?

The Guardian’s Lawrence Donegan thinks the youngster may well have boobed by trying to play both the U.S. and European tours. There is no doubt, as Lawrence points out, that spending lengthy periods of time in the United States means you simply don’t get home to see your coach as often as you might like. Just look at Harrington’s disastrous DIY swing tweak this year. Then there’s the travel, as McIlroy’s World Cup partner Graeme McDowell can attest after a nefarious PGA Tour foray cost him a Ryder Cup place at the K Club in 2006. McDowell’s manager at the time was Chubby Chandler.

Maybe that’s why Chandler was trying to persuade McIlroy to stay put in Europe and his Oct 21 email to the SportsBusiness Journal telling them that “Rory has decided not to join the PGA Tour in 2010” appears to have backfired on him spectacularly.

When I asked McIlroy about it before the Volvo World Match Play in Spain, he said: “I saw that. That’s not accurate.” And he said it in a hurt tone that hinted that he was not totally happy that a decision had been taken on his behalf or that he was being railroaded into doing something he was not quite sure he really wanted to do.

Given his inexperience, you could argue that he might be better off winning a few Italian or Portuguese Opens and improving his putting before committing to the PGA Tour. Then again, we are dealing with an extra special talent. He has agonised over this move, and being 20 and ambitious and wonderfully talented, he’s decided he’s going for it.

Knowing McIlroy, he truly believes he is right. It’s not a prerequisite for good golf, but McIlroy is highly intelligent—a gifted student who didn’t much care for school but still achieved outstanding SAT results when he was toying with the idea of going to East Tennessee State University. He decided not to take that route, left school around his 16th birthday and was a full-time golfer in 2005. It was a decision that backfired in the short term because he irked the Walker Cup blazers by skipping a series of big championships to play in a few European Tour events on invitations. England’s Oliver Fisher, not McIlroy, became the youngest Walker Cup player in history.

McIlroy shot 61 around Royal Portrush soon afterwards, left Peter McEvoy and Garth McGimpsey to rue their decision, and waited another two years to turn pro. McIlroy’s father Gerry believes Rory’s non-Walker Cup selection in 2005 was the best thing that ever happened to a kid who listens, weighs up his options and makes fearless decisions. Over the years, some of those decisions have been questionable, but McIlroy has never doubted his own ability.

Can he putt better? He must. Will America help? He has to go there to find out.

He could have been forgiven for going backwards last year but fought his way out of a slump instead. In fact, he emerged from that slump on his own initiative by seeking out Paul Hurrion for help with his putting. No agent interference there. That gesture made a deep impression on Padraig Harrington.

No doubt the U.S. media will start asking questions if he fails to win on the PGA Tour before the Masters. You fear for him should things go pear-shaped in America, but he’s been on an upward curve his entire career and the sky’s the limit.

America can wait, but when you have a talent that big, why hide it? 

Brian Keogh covers golf for The Irish Sun and contributes to a variety of golf publications. Pay him a visit at Irish Golf Desk.


Swingkeeper said...

I do agree he's an amazing talent, but I really question his maturity at this level. I fear he'll get eaten up by the big boys and fail to reach his true potential because he'll be too busy to prove himself.

It happens far to often in pro sports.

Just my opinion

Dave@Mud-Ball-Golf-Blog said...

Absolutely gutted...
this means he'll play less in Europe. Which, for a fan of the European Tour and Rory, is bad news indeed.
I think Swingkeeper has a point Rory is bound to be very busy and with lots of travel - not sure if we'll see him win much for quite a while. I say this because I think it will take some time to acclimatise not I don't think he's good enough - he definitely is.
Good luck to him!

Anonymous said...

Tiger Woods made a major swing change under Butch Harmon's long distance eye early in his career. He would video his practice and his rounds, then send it to Butch for analysis and help.

While you're right about it being tougher for Rory to have face time with his coach, I'm guessing he has the cash on hand to buy a good camera and computers for he and his coach.

Also, Harrington didn't change his swing all by himself. He does have a swing coach - Bob Torrance.

Ottawa Golf Blog said...

It will definitely be interesting to see how he does playing more on the PGA Tour. It will also be interesting how he does this week at the Dubai World Championship.

Mike said...

While I thought Rory would stay in Europe - he would be qualified for most of the main US events, anyway - I don't think it's going to affect him too much. The main "maturity" issue will be how well he schedules... but it doesn't look like he had too much trouble this year.

I'm not going to jump on the "next big thing" bandwagon, but I wouldn't bet against Rory's success, either.

The PGA Tourist said...

McIlroy has already performed in some massive events in America and has shown absolutely no sign that he'll be daunted by any sort of pressure. I don't think anyone besides Tiger, with the possible exception of Sergio has had this much attention, this early in his career and he's dealt with it superbly. If you need any evidence of that, he's currently fighting it out with Lee Westwood for the Race to Dubai riches. Plus, with Rory's incredibly high ball flight, he's set up for the target golf of the PGA tour. I'll be amazed if he's not top ten on the US money list next year.

Unknown said...

I am a biggest Rory's Fan in Poland. On february i was allready sure, that he will play great in 2009. But i am not sure if its good for him to play in PGA Tour next year. I am sure that he will be constans in top15 but we know that, he can be much better. So question is: its better for him to be in top15 there ore stay in Europe, then stayin in Europe, improve putting and attack PGA in couple next years?