Rory McIlroy is living the dream. He’s world No 1 and a multiple major winner - just what he always wanted. He’s happily entwined in a relationship and will never have to worry about money for the rest of his life. What could possibly go wrong?
Lots, if you’re six-time major winner Nick Faldo, who’s concerned about the Co Down man’s impending move from Titleist/Footjoy to a new equipment sponsor - widely believed to be Nike - and the effect any move might have on his game.
McIlroy, however, is unlikely to be too fazed by the scrutiny. He’s been a stickler for his equipment since he was barely out of short trousers and learned to handle the constant media attention through trial and error.
“The status (of being world number one) adds pressure but it’s one that I thrive on,” he said in a media release for next week’s Barclays Singapore Open. “People expect me to play well, and I expect myself to play better.”
Though he found it difficult at first, he’s become adept at avoiding a media double-bogey and it will be a surprise if he does not successfully navigate his way through the potentially choppy waters of an equipment change, whatever the timescale.
Faldo is from a different generation, 32 years his senior. And while he’s been accused of failing to disclose his ties to TaylorMade when he expressed his concerns, he sounded more avuncular than corporate when he spoke to the Golf Channel’s Morning Drive programme on Tuesday.
“It’s the feel and confidence of knowing that your equipment will perform how you want it to perform on Sunday afternoon,” Faldo said, when asked about his former protege’s decision not to renew with Titleist/Footjoy. “You can’t mess with that at such a young age.”
Faldo added: “I’ve been there at different stages in my career. He’s got to be very cautious. It’s a very dangerous time because your equipment is part of your golfing DNA, especially when you’re at that level.
“The feel of a golf ball, the sound of a golf ball, the weight of a golf ball when you actually hit it will all be different.”
Faldo is concerned that the 23-year old might have been blinded by flashing dollar signs from Nike HQ.
“If the rumours are correct, it’s a massive deal with huge amounts of money,” Faldo said. “But Rory’s got to look at the big picture and say, ‘Look, I’m going to be playing this game really seriously for 15 seasons at least.’
“He’s 23 and he can play until he’s 37 or more and he’s a Major golfer. He wants to go and win the Majors, that’s the most important thing. Would you want to risk trophies on the wall against a massive bank balance?
“Me, I wanted trophies. If you’ve got them, the bank balance will take care of itself. When you retire, it doesn’t matter, that number, but the six for me, the 18 for Jack or 14 for Tiger, that means an awful lot.
“He’s young and he’ll be saying to himself, well that’s alright, I can adapt to this and I can adapt to that, it spins the same, and all that, but I can promise you, all those little things are different and they can add up.
“Especially, he’s playing under the global spotlight. He’s got to go out and perform and he wants to perform. Sure, if it all slots in and it all goes off, then absolutely fine.
“But if it causes a little bit of that self doubt – maybe that didn’t quite fly how I expected and that spun a little more and I can’t get this driver to sit right – it’s all those little things.”
Speaking about his forthcoming appearance in next week’s Barclays Singapore Open, McIlroy revealed his love of the spotlight and his comfort level in the media spotlight
“I definitely feel like I have more responsibilities and I’m a lot busier in tournament weeks than I used to be,” he said. “It took me a while to get used to handling a little bit more attention, more pressure, more scrutiny when you are expected to play well heading into each tournament. But I’ve learned how to handle winning big events.”
McIlroy and his handlers at Horizon Sports Management have the best advice that money can buy and will not have taken a decision of his magnitude in any way lightly though many will point to the fact that stablemate Graeme McDowell has been winless since he moved from Callaway to Srixon after his stellar 2010 season.
McIlroy’s likely to crown his best ever season by adding the European No 1 crown to his long list of achievements this year. Club slection has been key to a year than has brought him his second major and more than $13m in earnings on the golf course.
No doubt he feels he’s committed with the correct club in his hands this time too.