It’s been 3,231 days. By the time we get to Thursday of the U.S. Open, it will be eight years, 10 months, and five days since Rory McIlroy was a major champion.
Jordan Spieth had one PGA Tour win. Justin Thomas had zero. Brooks Koepka was just getting his feet wet on the Challenge Tour and Scottie Scheffler was just old enough to buy cigarettes.
Rory’s major drought has become one of the most tired stories in professional golf so excuse me if I’m beating that exhausted drum once again, but this one feels different. Frankly, everything in golf feels different right now.
Over the course of the last week, if you had to put together a power ranking of the people that got the most screwed by what has happened with the PGA Tour, LIV, and PIF, you’d put Rory near the top, if not in the number one position.
He put his neck out for the PGA Tour and, specifically, Jay Monahan. He was asked to Dwight Schrute his way to the podium in front of a disgruntled group of employees over the last year only to find his voice and slam his fists down to thunderous applause.
Rory did everything right the last 14 months, even if you’re one that thinks LIV Golf was a welcome addition to professional golf. You might hate the way Rory went about his business in his approach to LIV but you can’t hate how much he put himself out there when he didn’t need to at all.
Starting on Thursday, this chatter…the bullshit chatter that makes me like golf less and less by the day…will quiet, at least for four days. Major championship golf has a way of turning down the noise in the car, like a parent that just needs a few minutes of peace and quiet between errands.
For four days in Los Angeles, we get to focus on golf, just golf, and for me, the way Rory McIlroy is going to play it.
Over the last nine years, Rory has searched for a fifth major championship, the ones that really matter. He’s spoken at times about winning everything but a major championship when pressed on the drought. You can have your FedEx Cups and your Canadian Opens and your Wells Fargo Championships; they are amazing resume builders when the career is wrapped. But Rory was considered an all-time great and all-time greats are compared by four tournaments a year.
I don’t think Gary Player is losing sleep over his second-place finish at the 1977 Danny Thomas Memphis Classic but I guarantee he thinks about the missed birdie opportunities on 13 and 15 in that 1962 Masters he lost in a playoff to Arnold Palmer. For Rory, this week is for him, and that’s it. He said as much last Saturday in Canada. He said last year’s win was about something else and this year was all for him. I need more of that from Rory. I need him to be pissed off on the golf course.
I was hosting featured hole coverage last month at the PGA Championship when McIlroy came through on Saturday. He was on the tee at the short par-4 14th, a hole he can easily reach if he commits to the aggressive swing, and a hole he needed to birdie considering his position on the leaderboard. Rory was lingering, as seems to always be the case on major Saturdays; lingering but not really in the hunt.
He aimed left to hit the big cut with out of bounds at least in the player’s periphery and bailed out. Honestly, bailing out has kinda been the Rory move in majors the last few years.
He yelled at himself on the tee after the swing. Called himself an aggressive term for being soft and marched off. He was annoyed at himself because once again, he failed to execute the aggressive shot needed in the moment.
Over the course of this nine-year drought, I could point to a host of those types of moments. The birdie-less third-round 77 when paired with Spieth in the final group on Saturday at the Masters in 2016. The missed bunny for eagle on No. 2 at Augusta National in 2018 to really put the pressure on Patrick Reed. Failing to one-putt a single green when it looked like he was in total control at the Old Course a year ago.
When Rory was winning majors, he was the baddest dude on property. It didn’t matter the shot or the hole or the danger, he took it on.
I always go back to a singular moment in 2014 when Rory won three tournaments in a row, including two majors. It was the 18th hole at Royal Liverpool on Sunday. Rory hit his tee shot in the fairway and with a two-shot lead, likely just needed a par on the last to secure his first Claret Jug.
He was 276 yards from the green and if you don’t know much about Liverpool’s 18th, allow me to paint the scary picture. There is out of bounds everywhere. Those white stakes are so close to the 18th green that I’d be nervous hitting a wedge into a tucked hole location. Rory pulled his longest iron and gave it a Rory rip, pushing it a bit into a bunker.
He made par and won by two but I always go back to that decision. Would this Rory McIlroy feel comfortable enough pulling that club in that moment with all that danger around the green? Meeting with the media after the win, he said he had two trigger words all week; Process and spot. Commit to the process with the full swings and pick a spot with his putting. That was it.
These days it feels like Rory has an advanced Websters when discussing his golf game. He’s gone through multiple iterations of process heading into major championships and he battles the demons that almost everyone battles when the tournaments actually begin.
But this week, I hope he can find a bit of that strut that pushed him to such an incredible start to his major career. I hope he can use some of the madness that has derailed what most of us thought would become professional golf and lean into it.
To stand over golf shots with trouble lurking and think about process and spot. He has it in him, of course, but for the last nine years, the swings have always been safe. They’ve always been cautious. They’ve looked anything like that 276-yard long iron into the final green when a lay up would have been sufficient.
I love the fact that McIlroy is a nice guy. I find him fascinating. I find him relatable, as much as a near-billionaire pro athlete can be relatable. But this week in Los Angeles, I’d like Rory to be an asshole. To me, to the media, to his competitors, and most importantly, to Los Angeles Country Club. I hope he arrives on property committed to beating up the North Course like he did to Congressional and Kiawah. I hope he uses all of what’s transpired in the last week to his advantage because it would be really easy to let it become a negative.
No more safe swings. No more outbursts of frustrations because he failed to commit to the lines. No more cut wedges from 120 yards when he has the skills and the hands to take dead aim and pull the shot off. There’s nothing left to protect or prove, and only himself to play for.