A massive crowd gathered around the practice putting green at the Open Champbionship, quickly turning into a gallery four rows deep. Photographers, lugging their heavy equipment, scrambled to try to squeeze through for a clear shot. There was an exhilarating buzz in the air.
It was a scene we’ve witnessed before, but this time the fuss wasn’t over Tiger Woods. It was for the boy wunderkind, the one some are (unfairly) dubbing “the new Tiger” — yes, it was Rory McIlroy.
After his history-making US Open victory, McIlroy has been the center of attention. Has he been surprised by the reaction?
“I didn’t realize how much of a fuss it would create or how much of a buzz,” said McIlroy during his pre-tourney presser on Tuesday. “I thought it was great for me to win the U.S. Open, win my first major, and the support that I’ve had from people back home, from everyone from all over the world, has been pretty overwhelming. It’s a very nice feeling to have that support walking onto the golf course.”
Rory has always been wise beyond his twenty-two years and down to earth, which is perhaps why he didn’t expect to attract so much attention.
“I’ve already sort of noticed over the past three weeks it has been a bit of a life-changing experience, and it’s just something I’m going to have to deal with,” he said.
Obviously he wouldn’t trade it all for the world — after all, he’s living the dream.
“This is what I’ve always wanted to do,” said McIlroy. “I’ve always wanted to be a successful golfer and be one of the best players in the world and to win major championships. If I have to put up with a few things along the way, then I’m fine with that.”
And he knows the expectations are high for him to perform well — and even to win — this week at Royal St. Georges. Whether or not that is fair is another question (links golf is a different beast and doesn’t always reward the best).
“Expectations are going to be high,” Rory acknowledged. “I mean, I have high expectations myself. I want to go out there and try and win a lot of golf tournaments and win majors and become the best player in the world. So everyone’s expectations are — they can say what they want, they can make the comparisons. All I need to do is focus on my game, and if I can do that, I know my good golf is good enough to win plenty more tournaments.”
Fame always comes with a price, doesn’t it? Of course, sometimes what’s most frustrating is that every little action you take is judged. Exhibit A: Rory pulling out of the French Open to take a break from competitive golf between the US Open and the British Open.
Big freaking deal! Funny that Lee Westwood and Colin Montgomerie have questioned Rory’s decision. You know, because of all people, they both know what it’s like to deal with the nonstop press demands, the adrenaline, and all that goes along with winning a major, right? Wrong. In my opinion, they’re just jealous.
Rory responded to the skepticism and doesn’t regret his pre-Open preparation.
“I was scheduled to play in the French Open, and if I had went into the French Open, I knew I wouldn’t be giving the best of myself or been able to practice or prepare properly,” he said. “Every event I go into I want to have a chance to win. I knew my preparation wouldn’t have been good enough going into France to have a chance. So I thought, you know what, let’s just get everything out of the way and make sure that your preparation going into The Open is as good as it could be, and that’s really what I’ve done.
“For me it’s all about preparation. I went into the Masters after three weeks off and shot three pretty good scores there. So it’s not a problem to me playing competitive golf after having a break.”
McIlroy changed his pre-major routine this year, starting with the Masters when he didn’t compete the week before. He told me that he had in the past, but he decided to switch it up because he felt he played better first week out. So far, it seems like it is indeed the case.
“I’ve prepared the exact same way that I’ve prepared for the last few major championships, and I feel it’s a process that works for me, coming to the course the week before, getting a couple of practice rounds in, and then not really getting to the course until Tuesday afternoon,” he said. “That works for me. It might not work for other people, but I feel as if it’s the best way for me to approach a tournament.
“It’s seemed to have worked the last few times, so I just need to keep doing that.”
(AP Photo/Matt Dunham)