McIlroy facing difficult balancing act

Hello world. Rory McIlroy turned professional at the Belfry in September 2007He stares his inquisitors directly in the eye but he does so out of interest and not with that famously cold, dead look that made Tiger Woods such an intimidating presence.

Rory McIlroy might be a major champion these days but he’s lost little of the youthful enthusiasm for the game that marked his amateur career and it could prove to be a crucial difference between the pride of Holywood and golf’s fallen idol over the next 15 years.

Woods chased his major records relentlessly and appeared to have few interests outside the game. His focus was and continues to be his bid to overhaul Jack Nicklaus in the record books and win 19 majors. But McIlroy is different and therein lies his greatest strength and his greatest weakness.

He loves the game for the game itself yet he’s got other interests beyond the fairway ropes . Once he’s out of the glare of the cameras, he’s an ordinary youngster with friends who still play football in the back garden.

And while he’s stated publicly that his ambition is to win the career grand slam and then win it again, it remains to be seen if he can maintain that kind of hunger while remaining true to himself.

Brandishing a crisp £20 note he claimed alongside partner Darren Clarke after a mini match with Open champion Louis Oosthuizen and Masters winner Charl Schwartzel, McIlroy showed it’s not all about winning majors. Sometimes the game is enough.

The 22-year old appears determined to keep his head down and keep going in search of his dreams and whatever about the inconveniences of fame, he’s happy to be doing what he’s doing.

Less than four years after his pro debut in the British Masters, Rory McIlroy was US Open champion“This is what I’ve always wanted to do,” McIlroy said when asked if he’d regretted the huge changes that have occurred in his life since his US Open win. “I’ve always wanted to be a successful golfer and be one of the best players in the world and to win major championships. If I have to put up with a few things along the way, then I’m fine with that.”

Mentally stronger than many imagine, McIlroy is also a far stronger player physically than he was last year.

Under the orders of English fitness guru Dr Steve McGregor, he no longer complains of back problems because he has worked so hard to strengthened his lower half.

“It’s like putting better tyres on the car or souping up your engine a bit more,” McIlroy’s coach Michael Bannon said this week.

There is no doubt that McIlroy has all the tools to become a multiple major champion and right now he has more than enough desire to power that engine for years to come.

Many fear that McIlroy will change and become an aloof and unreachable star in the Woods mould but while the player is more in demand than ever before, he’s got his priorities right.

“To be honest, you’ve got to be a little bit selfish and look after yourself,” he confessed after his final practice round. “It’s tough but I’m going to keep learning about it as time goes on. It’s okay and as long as I can just put the time in to practice and to prepare and get myself ready for tournaments, that’s all I need to do.”

Keeping golf in perspective is crucial to McIlroy’s future and his pre-US Open visit Haiti was a major factor in helping him put his Masters collapse into context.

Golf is still a game to McIlroy and as long as it remains just that he won’t go far wrong.

Yes, he’s ambitious but he possesses the fierce intelligence required to deal with everything else that goes with being a modern, sporting superstar.

“People pass comment without really knowing him and those that know him know that he will take everything in his stride,” his manager Andrew “Chubby” Chandler said recently. “He won’t get carried away by anything. He knew that all this was going to happen when he was 15.”