The sorcerer's apprentice

Rory McIlroy
The tale of the sorcerer’s apprentice begins as an old sorcerer departs his workshop, leaving his apprentice with chores to perform. The apprentice tires of fetching water to wash the floor and enchants a broomstick to do the work for him, using magic he does not yet fully understand.

The results are disastrous in the extreme as the youngster tries everything in his still limited powers to repair the damage only to make things even worse than they were originally before his master returns and saves the day with a wave of his wand and a magic word.

Despite Tiger Woods’ best efforts to prove that golf is indeed a game of sorcery and magic, the game is better described as a combination of inspiration, perspiration and frustration with the occasional success thrown in to prevent you losing all faith in whatever natural ability might have come your way.

And while Rory McIlroy is not your average apprentice, the young Holywood tyro is beginning to realise what came easily to him in the amateur game is far more difficult to achieve in the heady world of professional golf where false prophets are many and sorcerers are non-existent.

Managers, coaches and even fellow professionals can go a long way towards helping a young professional take his first steps on tour, pointing out the pitfalls and carrying out running repairs when needed.

But once the action starts on Thursday and you find yourself quickly engulfed in a maelstrom of conflicting emotions, it can be difficult to find the magic that got you there in the first place.

McIlroy has never been overawed by the talent of the young English professional Oliver Fisher, who had to battle like a man possessed to secure his card in his rookie season last year before caressing his maiden tour victory in March’s Andalucia Open, where he lost to the experienced Thomas Levet in a play-off.

Indeed, 19-year-old Fisher looked enviously as McIlroy claimed his playing rights in an obscenely short space of time last autumn thanks to headline grabbing performances in the Dunhill Links Championship and the Madrid Open.

Nearly a third of the way through his first full season, McIlroy has quickly discovered that he has many more magic spells to learn before he can contend for silverware on a weekly basis. But as Padraig Harrington once pointed out, the new breed are not quite so willing to sit back and let their elders take all the glory when they know they are already capable of the most incredible feats with a golf club in their hands.

“There would not be any respect for your elders,” Harrington said, when asked about Ben Curtis’ shock Open victory at Sandwich in 2003. “Just go out there and try and win. That's the way rookies on the European Tour perform and win tournaments. If it's my week, it's my week. That's the way guys look at it, and most guys are winners somewhere else along the line and have learned to win.”

McIlroy and Fisher may know how to win, but the real challenge is coming to terms with losing and re-setting your goals on the fly when victory is out of reach.

“Whenever I wasn't in contention in an amateur tournament, I didn't really care. I wasn't losing anything,” McIlroy said before the Estoril Portuguese Open, where a cold putter forced him to settle for a share of 15th place in the end.

“But here, you are losing money, losing point, losing rankings. So you have to try and give 100 percent and finish the best you can. If I was running 15th in an amateur event I wouldn't be that bothered but here you have to try and get the best out of every week.”

Fisher has added a prodigious amount of length to his game over the past year and quickly realised that no matter how good you might have been in the amateur game, there is a huge amount to learn.

“It is all a matter of improving and my whole game has improved: my swing, the mental side, learning to be around the cut mark as I was most of last year, grinding week in and week out,” Fisher said in Estoril. “There is a lot to learn but Rory picks things up very quickly and I am sure he will have his week soon. When you are doing it week after week, you get used to it.”

McIlroy has realised that there are no magic short cuts to the top: “Very few people have come from where I have come from and gone straight to the top of the professional game. You just have to be patient and bide your time and hopefully it will come good in the end.”

Once he starts waving that putter like a wand, the apprentice will become the sorcerer and the magic will return.