McIlroy trying to learn from 18-year-old self
For most players in the field this week at The 147th Open, Carnoustie is a firm, fast links course. For Rory McIlroy, there’s a firm past link to the player he once was.
The last time Carnoustie hosted The Open, McIlroy was an 18-year-old amateur full of awe, full of potential and a kid who could make his elders feel like fools.
Speaking of the practice round he played with McIlroy that week, Trevor Immelman said on Golf Channel Tuesday morning, “I remember [McIlroy] making me feel inferior in every way possible.”
Can you be both swashbuckling and cherub? McIlroy was.
The big-hitting, big-haired boy from Northern Ireland went on to post the only bogey-free round on Thursday, a 68 that left him tied for third and one shot better than his idol Tiger Woods. It was a 76 on Day 2, but that didn’t matter – he made the cut by three shots. The only amateur to advance to the weekend, his Silver Medal was secured. He finished the week in 42nd place.
But this is 2018. It’s a different Carnoustie and a different McIlroy, too. He’s a four-time major champion with double-digit wins on both the PGA and European tours. He’s been No. 1 in the world. He’s married and often speaks of finding joy in finding balance in his life. But maybe there’s something that 18-year-old knew that a more seasoned (now 29), wiser, slightly less oblivious McIlroy does not.
“I just think, as you get a little older, you get a little more cautious in life,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s only natural...When we last played The Open here, and again, look, I was just happy to be here. I was bouncing down the fairways, didn’t care if I shot 82 or 62.”
Romanticists could conjure feel-good scenarios where McIlroy ends his majorless drought – which dates back to his PGA Championship victory in 2014 – right here at the place his major championship golf began. It would all make sense in a week that we can’t yet make sense of, including McIlroy.
“I think there’s not going to be one player in this field that has a game plan on Wednesday night and is going to stick to that game plan the whole way around for 72 holes,” McIlroy said. “It’s just not going to happen with wind conditions, the pins.”
McIlroy played a practice round on Monday alongside 23-year-old Jon Rahm, and enjoyed seeing how the Spaniard attacked the course. It reminded him a little bit of that youthfulness and vigor McIlroy once showed.
“It was actually nice playing with Joe Rahm because the first instinct he has is [to] get up on a tee box and pull driver out of the bag. Not think about the trouble or think about anything. Just, 'This is where I want it hit it, and this is where I want to go'.”
Whether this is the week McIlroy can find his way back into the major championship winner’s circle remains to be seen. If it’s not, he’s OK with that, too.
“At this point I’m not trying to cement anything. Obviously, I’ve had a decent career up until this point, and I’ve got a lot of time left to add to [my] major tally.”
Whether it’s McIlroy at Carnoustie in 2007 or 2018, he knows one thing remains the same: He has no idea what to expect or the journey he’s about to embark on.
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