In an exclusive interview on Sunday evening with Sports Illustrated‘s Michael Bamberger, Rory McIlroy manned up and admitted he made a mistake by walking off the golf course after dunking his second shot in the water hazard on the par-5 18th, his 9th hole in the second round of the Honda Classic, where he was the defending champion.
As some guessed, the reason behind his abrupt walk-off was a combination of dental and mental issues, with the latter playing the main role. Even so, the world’s no. 1 golfer is not making excuses for his uncharacteristic behavior.
McIlroy, 23, was seven-over through eight holes and was “seeing red.” His poor play exacerbated the pain caused by a right impacted wisdom tooth, which he confessed was not a real medical emergency. He acknowledged that he should have known better, according to Bamberger:
“It was a reactive decision,” McIlroy said in a 25-minute telephone interview on Sunday night, two hours after Michael Thompson won the Honda for his first Tour title. “What I should have done is take my drop, chip it on, try to make a five and play my hardest on the back nine, even if I shot 85. What I did was not good for the tournament, not good for the kids and the fans who were out there watching me — it was not the right thing to do.”
The root of Rory’s troubles comes from in between his ears. He has a perfect picture in his head of what his swing should look like. He explained he’s having problems with the plane of his swing, not his new Nike golf clubs and ball.
“The driver and the ball took some time to get used to, but I had weeks at Nike before the start of the year, and I feel comfortable with all the equipment,” he said. “The problem is, I’m bringing the club too upright on the backswing then dropping it in too much on the downswing.”
Despite rumors and reports to the contrary, Rory is not on the rocks with his tennis star girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki. He spoke with her on the phone regularly throughout the weekend, along with his agent Conor Ridge. Rory told Ridge he wasn’t reading any of the reports or comments on his withdrawal, and he was also staying off Twitter.
“Whatever people are saying, I probably already said to myself,” McIlroy said.
While Rory and Tiger Woods have struck up a close friendship, the two have dissimilar personalities and differing approaches to life and golf. Rory, who has always been open and candid to the press, said he could take a page out of Tiger’s book when it comes to dealing with adversity.
“He might be the best athlete ever, in terms of his ability to grind it out,” McIlroy said on Sunday night. “I could have a bit more of that, if I’m honest.”
Meanwhile, Jack Nicklaus, who has been another mentor and friend to young Rory, commented on the world-number one’s early exit, and basically, the all-time leader in major victories hit the nail on the head with his analysis on Sunday.
“He shouldn’t have walked off the golf course,” said Nicklaus, who won 18 majors in his decorated career. “But I think that that was unfortunate. I think if he would have thought about it for five minutes, he wouldn’t have done it.
“He’s a good kid, he’s a sharp kid, and I just think probably he’s so frustrated with what’s happening and the way he’s played for the last month or so, that it just got to him. I think that would be my assessment. And I may be speaking out of school. I really don’t know. I haven’t talked to him.”
Nicklaus does speak quite often with Rory, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Rory has called him to apologize for his behavior. In any case, Nicklaus isn’t concerned about Rory’s game in the long term or even in about six weeks when the Masters rolls around.
“Matter of fact, I talked to him on Monday, and we had this exact conversation before the tournament,” said Nicklaus, referring to McIlroy’s struggles since switching to Nike equipment this season.
“We talked about, I said, don’t worry about your golf clubs. You’re too good and talented. That will come around. Just go play golf. If you need to get something, your golf clubs, I’m sure that Nike will work with him to do whatever he has to do to get what he has to get. He’ll be fine.
“When the Masters rolls around, Rory McIlroy is going to be playing just fine.”
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)