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Dermot Gilleece's Blog : Rory McIlroy's performances betray his years

"Some players just weren't meant to win the US Open" Not Rory McIlroy argues Imagine Golf Club's Dermot Gilleece

Posted Jun 24, 2009 by Dermot Gilleece

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                 When Padraig Harrington made his debut in the US Open at Congressional in 1997, he went away on the Friday evening, fairly dispirited about missing the cut by four strokes after rounds of 75 and 76.  A year later at the Olympic Club, the Dubliner, by his own admission, performed to the best of his ability yet rounds of 73,72,76,72 were good enough only for a share of 32nd place, 13 strokes behind the winner, Lee Janzen.

                 That was when Harrington decided that despite victory in the 1996 Spanish Open, his game simply wasn't good enough to allow him compete at the highest level.  So, on his return home, he sought out coach, Bob Torrance, to begin one of the most productive relationships in the history of the game.

                 Now consider Rory McIlroy.  As a 20-year-old, which is seven years younger than Harrington was at the Olympic Club, he felt so confident about a share of 10th place on his US Open debut at Bethpage Black last Monday, that he could talk realistically about one day capturing the title.  Presumably without the need of significant surgery on his technique.

                 This is a measure of the potential of the so-called Holywood star, who handled a seriously fragmented challenge with extraordinary maturity and composure.  For instance, when McIlroy finished his second round at 9.00 local time on Saturday morning, without any idea of when his third round was likely to start, he headed back to bed in his local hotel.  There was sleep to me made up after a 4.30 wake-up call that morning.

                 Coming only two months after a 20th finish on his debut in the US Masters, the Bethpage performance lent compelling emphasis to the overall quality of McIlroy's game.  His powerful hitting and high-ball flight gives him an obvious edge in this sort of challenge.  But it is his quiet confidence which has most impressed me this year, having earlier watched him in the Accenture Matchplay in Tucson, where he lost to the eventual winner, Geoff Ogilvy, in the quarter-finals.  

                 You don't get hyperbole from McIlroy, only calm analysis. As in: "It's been a very solid week and I feel I've done very well. I feel I can be patient when I want to be, which is what Majors are all about.  I have the game to handle this sort of situation.  I knew that level par would be a very good result. I can take a lot from this.  It certainly maintains a great start to my Majors career, coming after 20th in the Masters." 

                                    He went on: "I feel I have the game to compete in Majors and those results have given me a lot of confidence. I was really happy with a few shots I worked on for this week.  I put a three iron in the bag which worked well.  And I was hitting a lot of little half shots to take the spin off, which also worked well. And when I missed greens, I felt I chipped and putted well."
                               
                 Though it may have sounded somewhat cruel to perennial aspirants, Jack Nicklaus was right on the money when famously remarking: "Some players just weren't meant to win the US Open.  Quite often, a lot of them know it."  One could just imagine Phil Mickelson and David Duval contemplating this golfing axiom on their progress down the finishing stretch, while Lucas Glover became a highly improbable winner of this year's title.
 
                 For the 2002 US Amateur champion, Ricky Barnes, Bethpage threatened to inflict a dramatic tumble from the summit to base camp.  After a closing 76, however, he managed to claim a share of second place, having been six strokes clear on 11 under par at the top of the leader board after an eagle at the long fourth on Sunday.  Inevitably, it revived memories on the 1992 championship at Pebble Beach where Gil Morgan held a seven-stroke on 12-under at the same stage, only to drop to an eventual share of 13th place behind Tom Kite. 

                                    It also prompted imaginings of how McIlroy might respond, if he should find himself in a similar situation.  One could see him knowing precisely what to do.  And if you were now to ask Nicklaus what he thinks of McIlroy, three months after meeting him by chance at a Florida shopping mall,  it's reasonably certain that he wouldn't include him with the hapless Barnes among those who "just weren't meant to win the US Open."  Far from it.

- Dermot Gilleece

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