I was in second year in school when I first watched Rory McIlroy play Augusta. Stepping onto the first tee on Sunday, he was 4 shots clear. This 21-year old, with his distinctly Irish complexion, who lived just an hours’ drive away, was going to win the Masters. Rory and I both played lots of Junior Golf. Him serious, me less-so. We were both dropped to courses by our parents and we both celebrated putts on empty greens with our friends, as though they were victory-putts on Sunday at Augusta. Rory and I both shared the same childhood dreams. So, when Rory hooked his drive into the trees on the 11th, and buried his head in his arms, trying to hide his tears, my heart was shattered in the same way that his was.
We both learned a life-lesson that day. Sometimes, we must wait for the things we want the most. Two-months later, Rory would win the US Open. Since 2014, he has been a 4-time major champion. However, he still doesn’t own a green jacket, and for a player who was once cherished as the new Tiger Woods, the green jacket represents a growing lacuna in who Rory McIlroy was meant to be. We should applaud McIlroy’s balanced, anti-Tiger approach. His emphasis on ensuring that golf is no detriment to his personal life, is both healthy and sensible. At the same time, we should dare him to do more. Woods already does. McIlroy recently revealed that Tiger texts him at 4am – “Up lifting. What are you doing?”
Talking with the Guardian last Friday, McIlroy made clear that he doesn’t need to win the Masters to feel fulfilled. He said he lives the greatest life he ever thought he could, and winning more majors won’t change that. On the one hand, we could get angry at these comments. We could confront McIlroy as Ben Affleck does Matt Damon, in the final scenes of Good Will Hunting. We could argue that if McIlroy doesn’t owe it to himself, he at least owes it to us: to every Irish, Northern Irish or British golfer who has ever dreamt of being the greatest. On the other hand, McIlroy insists he works extremely hard. Ironically, he says he believes the key to winning the Masters is “not giving a shit.” If this is true, then perhaps his “fulfilment” will work for both of us. With top-10 finishes in his last 5 Masters, and having picked up the Players Championship in March, McIlroy is the bookies’ favourite this weekend at 13/2, but golf isn’t football or tennis. The favourite rarely wins.
I don’t entirely believe McIlroy. I don’t think he’s close to “not giving a shit,” no matter what he tells himself or the Guardian. When I watch him this weekend, for the 8th year in a row, I’ll be finishing my fourth year at university, older than he was on that dismal day in 2011, when we both learned that sometimes, we must wait. I fear we’re both slowly learning another life-lesson: that sometimes, the things we want may never come at all. I don’t want to believe it, but in the case of McIlroy and the Masters, I’m beginning to. This weekend, I’m backing Xander Schauffle at 33/1 or Matthew Fitzpatrick at 80/1.