Rory McIlroy sees positives of near-misses with Masters around corner
ORLANDO, Fla. – Of all of Rory McIlroy’s near-misses in recent weeks, his runner-up showing on Monday may end up leaving the biggest mark.
The Northern Irishman winced when asked about the Seminole Pro-Member where he was teamed with his father, Gerry, who is a member at the iconic South Florida layout.
McIlroy even went on to explain in detail the circumstances of the duo’s one-shot loss before adding with a wry smile, “Yeah, we played the last three [holes] in 1 over.”
In truth, McIlroy is at peace with his play, and his life, to the point that the near-misses, which include a runner-up showing two weeks ago at the WGC-Mexico Championship and top-5 finishes in each of his first four events of 2019, serve as encouraging pit stops.
Winning is always the benchmark that great players – players like McIlroy – are measured, and to be even more myopic, major championship victories are the ultimate yardstick. But McIlroy’s motivations go well beyond that limited field of fire.
After a decade on the PGA Tour the 29-year-old has learned that there’s nothing to be gained from short-sighted, and often unrealistic, expectations based entirely on wins and losses.
“I’m in a good place with my game, doing everything pretty well and just got to try and keep continuing on that path and if I keep working on these things and keep doing the right things, hopefully sooner or later I’ll turn all these good finishes into a win,” he said on Wednesday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational where he is the defending champion.
That doesn’t exactly sound like a man tortured by his current status as a bridesmaid. In Mexico he ran up against Dustin Johnson doing straight-up Dustin Johnson things … At the Genesis Open, where he tied for fourth place, it was an over-par opening round that he could never really recover from … And at the Farmers Insurance Open, it was another world-class foe, Justin Rose, in full flight.
“Just seems like one or two people play a little better than me every week I tee it up, but I’m in good shape,” he shrugged.
Desperation incarnate, right?
Those who choose to throw flames from the safety of social media will confuse McIlroy’s patience for apathy, but then again, those experts probably haven’t won 14 Tour events and four majors.
This is the destination vs. the journey deal for Rory. Players at this level set out each week with the singular goal of winning, but to allow yourself to be blindly lost in that pursuit and invest your entire professional self-worth in how a golf ball bounces is an appointment with a dangerously short, and unenjoyable, career.
For McIlroy, he’s learned that the healthier approach is to consider progress, however slight, his barometer for success. The sports cliché is you are what your record says you are, but only the player can determine if they are moving in the right direction.
“It’s, what is my goal? Obviously the ultimate goal is to win tournaments, yes, but there’s little mini-goals that you need to set yourself within those weeks,” he said. “For the most part every time I’ve teed it up I’ve achieved those.”
Of course, for McIlroy, the lofty line in the sand goes beyond simply winning, it’s now been drilled down to winning a single event – the Masters. Having collected three of the game’s four Grand Slam keepsakes, he’s just a green jacket away from undisputed greatness.
Being on the doorstep of joining the game’s most exclusive club has come with its own set of burdens, but for McIlroy, he’s embraced the same philosophy however grand the scale.
“It’s definitely taken me time to come to terms with the things I’ve needed to deal with inside my own head,” he said. “Sometimes I’m too much of a fan of the game because I know exactly who has won the Grand Slam and I know exactly the people I would be putting myself alongside. It would be huge. But again, I can’t think about it in that way.”
He’s now had four cracks at Grand Slam glory and finished inside the top 10 each year since 2015 at Augusta National. Again, where some would see failure, McIlroy has learned to embrace the opportunity, secure in the knowledge that each attempt puts him one step closer to that elusive status.
Sport is the ultimate democracy driven by those who win and those who come up short, but for Rory there are subtle victories to be cherished regardless of outcome.
“Leaving the golf course whether it be in Mexico or Riviera or Torrey Pines, I left happy,” he explained. “Even though I didn’t win the golf tournament, I left happy with where my game was and was in the frame of mind that it was a step in the right direction.”
That loss at the Seminole Pro-Member on Monday, however, that one was tough.
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