Rory McIlroy Wins Players, Proves Road to Success Different for Everyone
A lot of people, more every year, refer to the Players Championship as the ‘Fifth Major.’ Perhaps at some point, the lucrative event will actually become one, officially. The Players gets a lot of respect as an event, and almost everyone who plays at or near the top of the golf world shows up. Among other important considerations for showing up for and possibly winning the Players is that it is the perfect tune-up for the Masters, appearing on a television near us when the azaleas bloom in Georgia. This year, it was also played during the week of St. Patrick’s Day. The whimsical symbolism of St. Patrick is that he chased the “snakes” out of Ireland (almost sure it was really the Danes), but Rory McIllroy duplicated the feat by chasing them out of Florida. A frequent high-finisher and four-time major champion, McIllroy has put in a lot of top-ten finishes through the years, and has been on the figurative couch of every two-bit golf analyst and writer in the country, including mine. Even those of us who couldn’t make the cut at the local muni can tell the level of talent bouncing around in Rory McIllroy, the new favorite to break the personal Masters curse this spring. We thought he would win more often, but I suspect that most of his victories are still to come, and that many of them might have extra importance in the golf standings world.
This week was no walk in the park, even for the Florida snake-chaser. McIllroy had to hold off ten or eleven men who, on any given week, could walk away with any trophy known to the industry. Rory held onto his nerves, and held off Jim Furyk who at almost fifty is still a viable contender week in and week out. This version of the Players featured a lot of wind, a lot of rain, and a lot of cold. What could be better for an Irishman? I’ve been there under such conditions, and have heard it popularly referred to as a heat wave.
There are so many ways in which to become a success. Of course, putting in the hard work is prerequisite, but there are several valid personality type for a champion. Many of us have keyed in to the ones that wear their winning obsession on their sleeves. We thrill to stories of Gary Player refusing to go home until he puts fifty bunker shots within four feet. It worked for Player, one of the best bunker players in history. We love the calculating genius who goes about his craft like a besieged super-hero, hitting thousands of balls per day. However, Rory McIllroy proves that another type can win at professional golf as well, the real and normal human being type who doesn’t deal in weekly dramas surrounding the highs of lows of “my game.” Make no mistake, Rory has put in the hard work – but he just isn’t crazy. He’s a guy with a life off the course and other things to think about. As it turns out, he just needed to relax, do it his way, and stop listening to all of us. Apparently, turning off the news was a good first step. Rory has turned his ‘almost’ victories into educational experiences that shape character for the next opportunity – good idea number two.
For those players who revel in the “angst” of it all, that may be the best way for them. We have seen every permutation of Tiger’s “I was born to win,” and the subsequent funks when destiny fails him. We have seen the super-concentration types from Hogan to Player, where we could see smoke coming out their ears just by thinking so hard. For McIllroy, it might work just as well to join the ranks of Lee Trevino and Sam Snead. They won a lot, too, and committed to doing the hard work, They just weren’t crazy.