Everybody Wants to Get Into the Mind of Rory McIlroy
ALL of a sudden it seems that everybody has an opinion about what is wrong with Rory McIlroy and what he needs to do if he is ever to win The Masters, the one tournament he requires to complete the career grand slam. It is interesting to note that none of these people actually play golf for a living.
It is clear even to the layman that the longer McIlroy goes without winning at Augusta, the harder it will become for him to finally pick up the Green Jacket. But when a sports psychologist of the standing of Dr Gio Valiante decides to venture his view then it may be time to listen. Valiante is the mental coach who worked with Justin Rose when he won the US Open in 2013. And when you consider all the success that Rose has enjoyed then maybe it is time for McIlroy to take some independent views on board.
"Augusta National can punish if you play too aggressively," Valiante said. "So until he starts to play more maturely - until Rory McIlroy learns how to play more patient and tactical golf - I don't see him winning at Augusta.
"He has to learn to play the way that Jack Nicklaus did at the height of his career, the way that Tiger Woods has done it, even the way that Jordan Spieth does it, managing his game. It's not lack of maturity as a human being, it's the way he plays the game.”
If you have followed McIlroy’s career then you will know that he is capable of incredible bursts of low scoring. You will also know only too well about his frailties on the green. He appeared to have solved the problem at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, where he putted brilliantly after a session with putting gurus Brad Faxon, once one of the best putters on the PGA Tour. And for three rounds at Augusta he continued to hole putts for fun. But when the pressure was really on in that final round, McIlroy’s putting touch deserted him yet again.
And Valiante believes that McIlroy will continue to win tournaments and will still shoot some spectacular scores. You don’t have to be a psychologist to predict that though.
"The pattern of his career has proven that," he said. "It is hard to criticise a guy who has won as much as he has. But look at the talent. The way you look at a player is talent and the mental game. A guy like Rory has a huge amount of talent but his mental game is down here and it brings his talent down. Whereas a guy like Jordan Spieth, whose mental game is right up here, it brings his talent up.
"I hate to criticise Rory because he is a wonderful person and a wonderful human being. But the things that are happening to him are causal. They are known. It is not random. Until he actually addresses it and fixes it, this is what his career is going to look like, I can guarantee that.
"He could have won at Augusta, and I still would have been right. He could have got hot, but nothing would have changed."
McIlroy admitted at Augusta in 2016 that The Masters was a "mental hurdle that I'm struggling with at the minute” and his many supporters will surely have been pretty downhearted at the way he seemed to give up around the turn.
Valiante predicts that unless McIlroy changes his mental approach he will only build up more scar tissue. "He is going to win more because he is so talented but now he is more scarred," he said. "That was five hours of choking. That wasn't an hour. He was bad from the first tee shot. When you have emotional baggage and the chemical things that happen in the brain with the amygdala (centre for emotions) firing, the mental block that he admitted to two years ago, just got a capital B on it.
"That's just the unfortunate reality. And as we saw with Sergio Garcia, there is nothing inevitable in golf. It is not a guarantee that Rory is going to win this golf tournament.
"Sergio Garcia got his major but, boy oh boy, we often talk about how many he could have had if he had matured earlier. So with Rory until this gets addressed, this is what it's going to look like."
He believes that McIlroy could learn a great deal from Jordan Spieth. "I have said it since I first met him in 2014," he said "Jordan has the best mental toolbox in the game of golf. Jordan will continue to do Jordan things for the rest of his career because his game is built on sustainable, repeatable processes. I think Rory is going to continue to be streaky.”
So there you have it – the view of one of the game’s leading sports psychologists, a man who is paid considerable sums of money for his advice and expertise – and when it comes right down to it, he has simply stated something that we already knew. It just goes to prove how incredibly difficult it is to win majors, no matter who you are and how good you are.
As for his part, McIlroy admits that losing at Augusta was hard to take but insists he will learn from the experience and remains confident that he will one day win The Masters.
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