As a golf fan we have been trained to expect prolonged greatness. Tiger Woods hit the scene in 1997 and basically dominated golf until 2010. Jack Nicklaus before him was great for even longer. Greg Norman, Arnie before him, Hogan, Nelson, and so on. But for every golfer like those I mentioned there has been a golfer who flew onto the scene and disappeared almost as quickly as they appeared. I worry that Rory may be falling into the second category.
I am sure you are thinking that I am making this prediction too early in Rory’s career. You are probably right, he may again win majors, and maybe even get the number one player title once Tiger starts to lose his edge, but my theory is that he will never dominate. For me it is a combination of things that lead me to this conclusion.
Let me start by saying that getting married is probably going to help Rory immensely. It will settle a sometimes volatile personal life where he was in the headlines far too often for non-golf related stories. Rory seem s to me to be a hopeless romantic and being in a relationship and now married will help him to focus more on golf rather than following around his girlfriend watching her play tennis. I think initially it will be distraction, like answering questions about it, planning it, but once it is over, Rory the person will likely feel relieved and get back to playing golf. Sort of how Tiger did right after he was married. Jack Nicklaus said after Tiger got married that it would settle him, I think it will settle Rory and he will be a better golfer for it.
Still, the doubt surrounding his game and its current state is concerning. I have said before that I was positive he would struggle when making the change to Nike. Not because the equipment is bad, but because of the pressure it would put on him. Taking such a large contract from Nike put a target on his back in the eyes of the media. It in essence christened him the next Tiger. That is pressure. Pressure so heavy that only a guy with the ability to cocoon himself like Tiger can handle it. The root cause of Rory’s difficulties is in his swing mechanics, particularly with the driver. That said, he did not putt as well as he did in 2012 either. Bad driving and bad putting lead to a year like Rory had in 2013. But while he was struggling, having the media question him about his equipment likely plays with his mind. This causes him to push harder and it all goes backwards.
This pressure is only going to intensify in 2014. This will lead to an early season slump, in my opinion, we will likely only see his name on the leaderboard at the PGA Championship. I certainly believe that Rory has talent. Winning majors by as many shots as he has takes a unique mindset. A self-belief to run away from your competitors. Tiger of course has it, but few others do. But Rory is young, rich, and distracted. Sometimes when you take your foot of the gas pedal it can be extremely hard to put your foot back on and accelerate. I feel the distractions like the equipment change and girlfriend have caused him to take his foot off the gas pedal.
You can argue that he will always be streaky because of his swing mechanics. This is the more scientific approach to debating the greatness of athletes. You can argue the ball does not care about his distractions, it only cares how it is struck. Fair, but it neglects the fact that many strange looking golf swings have won at golf and that a golfers mental make up has as much to do with their success as their swing. To dominate, he will need to get his mind right. Ignore the distractions and get back to made him a success.
I like Rory, and in fact I wouldn’t change anything about him. He does not need to dominate the game as Tiger did for all those years. I will still enjoy watching him win when he does. But the expectations of him and his game should be set accordingly. We should expect him to win six to seven majors and they may be spread out by two to three years. He may also have two years or more when we don’t hear anything from him.
This means that the media will need to continue looking for the golfer to deem “The Next Tiger Woods.” The PGA Tour marketing machine has their eyes on Jordan Speith right now, but he has to win a major before the real comparisons begin. Jordan also needs to become a better putter to truly challenge for majors each year. Rory has similar tools is a better putter, when he plays well, and has the majors already in the trophy case.
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