By Brian Keogh
New boy Rory McIlroy is hoping that a “kick up the backside” will catapult him to the top of the European Tour class.
But the Holywood hotshot, who turned 19 just ten days ago, admits that he’s still got a lot to learn in life's school of hard knocks.
As he prepares to tee it up in his first Irish Open since he grabbed his card in a blaze of glory eight months ago, he knows that there are no wins without hard work.
After arresting a run of five missed cuts in eight events with a four solid finishes, McIlroy said: “Those few missed cuts have sort of given me a kick up the backside to really say, you have to work really hard out here to keep your position.
“You have to work as hard as all of the other guys are in the gym and hitting balls and working on short game and everything.
“It's been a great learning experience so far and I would rather be out here than at university starting my first year.
“I would love to win, but there's so many good players out here that work so hard and it's hard to expect to win all the time.
“When I came out on tour, I was hoping - hoping is the wrong word - but going out expecting to do my best and I know if I do my best that I'm capable of winning.”
McIlroy is no ordinary 19-year-old and three-time tour winner Graeme McDowell, 28, reckons he needs little in the line of advice.
After learning the hard way himself, McDowell said: “He's a pretty intelligent, mature kid for 19. He seems to be learning pretty quickly and I think talent can make up for a lot of mistakes and he's certainly got bundles of that.
“In my six years out here, I think it's a massive learning experience and I would tell him to stick to his guns as opposed to doing what other guys are doing.”
McIlroy has earned €81,000 from 11 starts so far but needs at least another €130,000 just to keep his card.
He’s quickly learnt that correct scheduling plays a big part of earning more success and with a run of eight massive events over the next 10 weeks, he’s glad he’s feeling fresh.
He said: “ You have to make sure that you play in the right events and the right number of events so that you're not going into tournaments either ill-prepared or feeling you've played too much. You need to find the right balance, which I'm probably still trying to get that balance.
“I feel like I've learned a few things this year, and I think that that can help me this year and in the years to come.
“I think it's just a learning process, a learning curve, getting used to traveling to the Far East, the different types of grasses and different conditions out there.
“I think my progress has been quite steady, nothing too spectacular. But I feel like I'm coming in feeling quite well and coming into a good run of events. Hopefully I can keep going.”
Watching seasoned players like Damien McGrane and Peter Lawrie win for the first time in recent weeks has made McIlroy realise how tough it is to win on tour.
But he has no plans to ditch coach Michael Bannon for a big name swing guru like Butch Harmon.
He said: “Michael's taught me everything I know about the golf swing since I was six or seven years old, and he haven’t done too bad so far.
“It's not as if Michael can't see the way I'm swinging at an event, and with all of the gadgets and gizmos and everything, I can be at like Japan a couple of weeks ago and Michael can be at home.
“I'll send him a few swings and have him have a look at them and he'll email me back or ring me and tell me what to do or what to work on.”
As for Ireland’s run of four European Tour wins, he said: “You see guys like Peter and Damien; they have won in the last few weeks and they have been on Tour a while and that was their first win, so it is difficult to win on Tour.
“My expectations for the year are try to finish in the top 60 of the Order of Merit. The season is really only starting now with all of the big events coming up.
“I feel like I've progressed quite steadily over the last three or four months and hopefully I can go on from there and challenge in a couple of events.
“I think going out last year and getting my Tour card so quickly, probably put a lot of expectation on my shoulders.
“You just have to keep working hard, because then all of the guys are working hard out here to try and beat you.
“I've learned a few things this season and hopefully that will stand me in good stead for the months ahead.”