Commentary

It's Rory McIlroy's life to lead

If he wants to focus on golf or spread his time around, that's up to him

Updated: July 16, 2013, 4:11 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

GULLANE, Scotland -- Rory McIlroy apparently can't do anything right these days.

He can't win a tournament. (0-for-2013.)

He can't go a week without getting the cold shoulder from his Nike clubs. (Another new driver is in his bag for the Open Championship.)

He can't please Sir Nick Faldo. (More on that soon.)

And, oh, he can't compete in the 2016 Olympics without alienating an entire country. (Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.) Or be in love. (Caroline Wozniacki.) Or switch management companies. (This will be his third.)

But first, the golf.

If you didn't know any better, you'd think McIlroy was one missed cut from selling X-out balls from his car trunk. His confidence is on the disabled list. And everyone -- from three-time Open winner Faldo to the great Jack Nicklaus to the European sports media -- is telling him what he should do with his life.


"You have a window of opportunity," Faldo said the other day. "That's my only words of wisdom to Rory. You have, say, a 20-year window as an athlete. Concentrate on golf, nothing else."

And this from Nicklaus, who recently chatted with a "Live At Wimbledon" crew: "Before, he was grinding, grinding, grinding to get where he wanted. Now all of a sudden he's had [things] a little bit more leisurely and he's got a little less pressure. You need the pressure. I think it's great to have the pressure. I enjoyed having it every time I walked on a golf course."

Pressure? McIlroy feels it every time he walks on the course and every time he walks off it. He used to be 5-foot-9 before he started wearing anvils on his shoulders. Now he looks as if he needs a very long hug.

This is what happens when you're ranked No. 2 in the world (formerly No. 1), win two majors before your 24th birthday, date a tennis star and sign a $100 million-plus endorsement deal with Nike. This is what happens when you do all of those things ... and then don't win.

But McIlroy isn't Faldo. Faldo turned the spigot off on his life for years because the pursuit of greatness was more important to him than the pursuit of happiness. There's a difference, and Faldo was willing to pay that particular price for the trophies, the championships and the knighthood

[+] EnlargeRory McIlroy
Ross Kinnaird/R&A/R&A/Getty ImagesRory McIlroy's game hasn't been all that good lately. Will that change at the Open Championship?

McIlroy isn't Nicklaus. Nobody is. Nicklaus found balance in his life, but it helped that his golf talent nearly lapped his generation of players.

Instead, McIlroy is still trying to figure out who he is and what he wants to be. He's trying to find his equilibrium. He wants to be great, but he also wants to live his age. And when those two items on his wish list fail to intersect -- and that has been the case for months and months -- the "What's Wrong With Rory" chorus grows from a solo act to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.


Faldo and Nicklaus mean well, but it isn't as simple as saying "concentrate on golf" or "embrace pressure." McIlroy has done both. In fact, he has done so for years. That's how he won a U.S. Open and a PGA Championship.

But he also likes having a girlfriend. And having a pint. And traveling. And yeah, he likes money, too.

On this side of the pond, no golfer is microanalyzed more than McIlroy. He got money-whipped by Nike, but his play has suffered since switching clubs. And, as his play suffered, so occasionally did his golf manners.

He had the walk-off at Honda earlier in the year, which is almost as bad as the official excuse he issued after the walk-off: wisdom teeth problems.

He went T-25 at the Masters and T-41 at the U.S. Open. It also was at Merion where McIlroy bent a club in frustration.

He has played only 36 holes since the U.S. Open in June and isn't the favorite to win this week (that's Tiger Woods at 8-1), or even the second favorite (that's Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose, 20-1). Instead, McIlroy is a 25-1 pick.

Woods feels McIlroy's golf pain. Early in his own career, Woods took heat for altering his swing. He remembers the questions and the second-guessing.

"People obviously speculate and hypothesize about what he should or shouldn't do," Woods said. "But deep down he knows what he's doing."

[+] EnlargeMcIlroy & Wozniacki
Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty ImagesRory McIlroy has a life outside of golf. For one, there's girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki.

Woods got it right: McIlroy should follow the one voice that matters -- his own. If he wants a life outside of golf, or to form his own management company, or to follow his heart when it comes to the Olympics, then good for him. He is, Mickelson said, "acutely aware of what is needed to handle pressures and things off the course."

Right now, McIlroy's game is as fragile as a newborn. Talk to him one week and he says he's thisclose to a breakthrough. Talk to him a week later and he says his swing is a 1,000-piece puzzle.

"He [has], I'm sure, put a lot of pressure on himself this year to prove to everyone that he can make [an equipment] switch the way he has and continue to perform," said close friend Graeme McDowell.

McDowell reminded everyone that McIlroy scuffled a year ago and then won the PGA Championship and reclaimed the No. 1 world ranking.

"We always say form is temporary and class is permanent," McDowell said. "And he's a class player and I expect to see him back very soon."

McIlroy tees off Thursday morning at Muirfield at 4:44 ET. Still to be determined: what version of his golf game tees off with him.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter