By Dermot Gilleece for GlobalGolfPost
Wise guidance from respected old hands and the love of a good woman inspired
Rory McIlroy – Global Golf Post’s 2012 Player of the Year – to
heights this year unimagined even by his lofty standards.
And without giving hostages to fortune, he has reason to be confident of a
similar outcome in 2013.
Predictably, the majors will be his prime targets once more, having tucked
away the significant bonus of the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic.
“This year, I was out of it for three of them,” he admitted, regarding
finishes of tied 40, T95 and T60 in The Masters, US Open and Open Championship. “I’d like to think that I
can be in contention for all four next year, while maintaining my position as
world number one. They’re the goals I want to set myself.”
In the meantime, his life is held perfectly in balance by a deepening
relationship with girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, with whom he traveled to Aspen,
Colorado and Sao Paulo, Brazil in the wake of his Dubai World Tour
Championship triumph, to watch her in exhibition tennis matches on the run
up to Christmas.
“This is my time off; my time away (from golf),” he said. “And I need it. If
I have time, I’ll travel wherever in the world Caroline is, just to see her.
That’s what I want to do. That’s what makes me happy.”
Then he added pointedly: “Obviously, it’s very satisfying to win majors and
important golf tournaments, but deep down, what makes me really happy
is my life outside of golf and how that is at the moment. It enables me to play
great golf because everything is sort of in balance.”
To my gentle suggestion that most of us have known what it’s like to be in
love, he laughed almost apologetically, adding, “I know, I know” by way of
acknowledging that his relationship with Caroline, while obviously special to
him, is not unique.
From West Palm Beach, where he enjoys the amenities of The Bear’s Club, the
23-year-old seems happy to travel the world, on and off planes and living out
“That’s just the way my life has become, but I don’t plan for it to remain
this way,” he said. “I’d love in a few years’ time to find a base and settle
down. That would be ideal. I don’t think someone can do this for a prolonged
period like 10 years, say.”
Would marriage create that situation?
“For sure. But I still feel I’d do it anyway.” Meanwhile, Jack Nicklaus,
Dave Stockton and Tiger Woods have become serious influences in his tournament
career, though boyhood tutor, Michael Bannon, remains his trusted coach.
A finish of five successive birdies in Dubai prompted comparisons with Woods
at his peak, and while not necessarily at odds with the notion, McIlroy insists
that they are very different people.
“For sure,” he emphasised. “I can’t bring the intensity Tiger brings every
week. He can sort of turn it on, which is impressive. It’s something that I
struggle to do sometimes. Though I can generally bring it to the big events
where I really want to do well, I would find it very difficult to do it every
week. That’s why I’ll be cutting my schedule to a maximum of 22 or 23
tournaments next year, starting in Abu Dhabi in January.”
He went on: “Too much competitive golf simply isn’t good for you. That’s
where Tiger is very smart, bringing the same level of intensity to 20
tournaments a year. It’s an emotional thing, of course. I had a great end to
the summer with the PGA win and two FedEx Cup wins and the Ryder Cup,
but you reach such a high that you’ve got to allow yourself get all the way
back down again. Then, having got down, I had to build myself up again for a
last push towards winning the European money list.”
A closeness to his father Gerry, to Nicklaus and putting coach Stockton,
suggests a respect for older heads.
“Of course I have,” he confirmed. “I can still be pretty stubborn, wanting
to do things my way, but they’ve obviously seen a lot more of the world than I
have. It’s great just to see Jack around and have a casual lunch with him and
not even talk about golf. Just talk about normal stuff; what’s going
on in the world. And Dave has been a great influence on me and a great addition
to my team.”
In late February 2009, the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson
marked McIlroy’s professional debut in the US, a few weeks after his first win
in Dubai. Ranked 17th in the world, he reacted with remarkable composure to the
prediction from Ernie Els that he was set to become the game’s number one.
With a self-assured smile, he remarked: “You’ve got to believe you’re the
best; that no one can beat you.”
Fascinated observers sensed instantly that this 19-year-old was different.
And those of us familiar with him, prepared
ourselves for what we knew would be a wonderful journey.