BROOKLINE, Massachusetts. Rory McIlroy has been battling for his soul in golf for the past few weeks. On Thursday in the first round of the 122nd US Open, he reminded everyone why his words carry so much weight.
McIlroy is an amazing communicator, period. He took on the mantle of the game’s chief spokesman, talking about what the future looks like 10 or even 50 years from now, and in doing so, he offered enlightening insight, sage advice, and a way forward for a game that is out of balance. was baffled by the LIV Golf-PGA Tour duel.
There are other great talkers in the game, but they don’t hit 67 in their first 18 holes at The Country Club.
The four-time major tournament winner is experiencing an eight-year drought when it comes to major tournaments, but McIlroy started the week playing just as well as in previous years. Nearly a miss at the Masters in April, a first-round lead at the PGA Championship in May and last week’s win at the RBC Canadian Open in which he hit over 20 hits and pinned Tony Finau and Justin Thomas. – were, perhaps, his best achievements before the US Open.
Now his game is tougher than a Tiger Woods shirt with fake neck.
On Thursday, McIlroy came close to something near-perfect with par on the first six holes and two birdies on the last three on the back nine (he started number 10). A ridiculous par-3 save on the hard 2nd hole plus an impossible save from the bunker on the short par-4 5th hole made it go down. Rory then hit #7 and #8 to take his total to 4 under before a disappointing bogey at the end resulted in a stick toss and some words that NBC couldn’t even broadcast if it wanted to.
McIlroy was uncharacteristically sullen for a man who claimed leadership of the club at the US Open. It was by far the most vicious 67 he ever filmed.
In addition to throwing his club, McIlroy unloaded in the bunker on this 5th hole after throwing one of the juiciest junk into another bunker a few yards away. After the round, he called out to the players in front of his group for being slow and explained why he was so upset.
“You’re going to run into things at the US Open, be it lies or whatever, that you just won’t run into any other week,” McIlroy said on the 5th hole. “It’s hard not to get upset, because I go there and say: “Just go back to the bunker.” The thickest rough on the track is along the edges of the bunkers.
“Every time I went to the ball, I kind of cursed the USGA. This is one of those things. bumps because I already messed it up so it didn’t feel like it was a whole lot more work for [caddie] Harry [Diamond]and then I just folded and did a decent bunker and then it was really nice to hit that putt.
“But yes, you’re going to be facing things this week that you don’t normally face in other weeks of the year, and you just have to try to embrace them as best as you can.”
If you’ve been following McIlroy for longer than the last three days, it’s easy to give him reason to doubt these outbursts. While he’s not immune from criticism for club tossing and sand mining projects, it’s also nice to see someone who at times seemed like a lunatic at major championships with a clear eye and full engagement.
When asked if he thought it was okay to show anger on the golf course to remind other people of the importance of big games, his response was usually great.
“Yes, of course,” he said. “Almost to remind myself sometimes how much it means to you too.”
All four of McIlroy’s big wins included opening rounds in which he scored 67 points or less, and in those four—2011 US Open, 2012 PGA Championship, 2014 Open Championship, and 2014 PGA Championship—McIlroy either was in the lead, or was within one of the best after round 1. Most likely, this is the position he will be in after the end of the round on Thursday.
Rory McIlroy: 29th career major championship round of 67 or below
Most rounds of 67 or below in major championships since 1995
Tiger Woods, 48
Phil Mickelson, 37
Rory McIlroy, 29
Ernie Els, 25
— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) June 16, 2022
Of course, the dynamic workload of the whole sport has undermined his emotions in a way that he may not even be able to recognize right now. When players, the media, and even the highest level executives in the game ask what you think is the best way forward, the taxation is huge.
However, after the round, McIlroy resigned from the role of preeminent statesman in a game that is now a century and a half old.
“I’m just being myself,” he said. “I live my life. I do what I think is right and try to play the best golf I can. I was not asked to put me here. I’m just being myself.”
The problem with McIlroy is that he is arguably the greatest race car driver in the history of the sport, and he’s probably an even better speaker. His playing gives seriousness to his words, and gravity rules the world.
However, as the US Open finds its footing, it would be nice to put aside the noise and gossip between organizations that are fighting an unfair but inevitable war. Even McIlroy, when asked if he wanted to win this tournament as a means of consolidating power to further change the course of his sport, instead shifted his focus from the future to the past and now to the present.
He did what we all needed to do – at least for the next three days – by reminding everyone of the historic scope of the major championship that is now underway and may soon be in his hands. A major championship that, given the unforeseen consequences of diluting the regular golf season, is now.
“Not really,” McIlroy said when asked if, being the heart of the sport off the track, he was inspired to make a statement about it.
“It’s been eight years since I won the Major and I just want to get my hands on it again.”