Rory McIlroy is like a sponge.
Try as he might to ignore any negativity, the criticism seeps though, making him even more determined to shove it down the throats of those who have been dubbed “the naysayers”.
But he also absorbs all the stuff he really wants to hear, such as Jack Nicklaus’ assertion two years ago at the Honda Classic that the short game was relatively unimportant to players like himself or McIlroy, who hit a high number of greens.
At the Valero Texas Open, where he is trying to knock a little more rust off his game before heading to Augusta National, McIlroy preached the gospel according to Pádraig Harrington.
Whatever about his at times eccentric view of the world, Harrington speaks a huge amount of sense and as an unconditional McIlroy fan, the veteran’s words carry serious weight with the 23-year old Co Down man:
“Consistency is highly overrated. We all want to be consistent as professional golfers, but generally people that are consistent are mediocre. So if you want to have the really good days, it’s unlikely.
“Consistency is one of those things. I know everybody wants it. As players we go out there and practice all day looking for consistency, but consistency actually is boring, so you want the exciting peaks, even if that means that there are going to be some frustrating days afterwards, so be it.
“You’re going to be remembered in your career for the high points, not for the mediocre ones. So if I was him, I wouldn’t let anybody get in his head and just go about his business and stay patient.”
Harrington regards his haul of three-majors in 13 months as a peak that may well come around again, not something that was meant to be sustained for the rest of his career.
And while he claims that “it’s only the media that thinks that golfers can peak every week”, he knows that golfers will be judged at the end of their careers by the number of majors and big wins they captured.
McIlroy’s career has a clearly defined pattern of huge highs that make the relatively frequent lows appear even more disastrous that they really are.
While he won five times last year and captured his second major, his move to Nike and his poor start to the season have put him under even more pressure to perform. Welcome to Tiger’s world, Rory, or even Pádraig’s.
Having cancelled a planned humanitarian trip to Haiti earlier this week to play in San Antonio, McIlroy tried to put it all in perspective.
His take is remarkably similar to Harrington’s. Yes, I have bad times but I try to forget about them and focus on the good stuff. After all, it’s only the big wins and the majors that people really remember.
“I don’t care if I miss 10 cuts in a row if I win a major a year, that’s what it’s all about. It’s winning the big tournaments….
“When people look back on a person’s career you don’t say, Jack Nicklaus was so consistent. Okay, you could say he finished 19 times second in a major but what you think about is the 18 majors he won. That’s what people remember. People remember the wins. They don’t remember that I shot 65 at Doral to finish eighth. People don’t remember that stuff, but they remember the wins and the remember the high points and it’s only a minority that will remember the low points and will get on you for that.
“I guess it would be nice to have consistency in your career but not let it go too far down, not get too low, but also enjoy the peaks as well. What I remember are the good points. i remember last year, my five wins, winning my second Major Championship, the Ryder Cup, winning Player of the Year. I don’t remember missing four or five cuts or whatever it was in the middle of the season. I remember, but that is not what I think about. I remember the high points.”
As for the criticism of his management team and even his parents, according to a question by one reporter, McIlroy believes what he and his entourage is going through is a steeping learning curve.
“At the end of the day, most of the decisions are down to myself. I don’t think the people around me, especially not my parents, or the people closest too me, they shouldn’t be criticised or scrutinised at all. I think what we are dealing with in my life right now is new to everyone. It is a learning curve and you learn every day. If we weren’t learning and we weren’t making mistakes, there would be something wrong. I am very happy with everything that is going on around me and I’ve got great parents and a great support team and everything in that regard couldn’t be better.”
Whatever happens at the Masters - and there’s no doubt that McIlroy just needs a small spark of inspiration to challenge for a green jacket next week - he will be stronger for what has happened over the past 90 days.
“I was struggling with confidence going into Memphis and the US Open last year,” he said of his latest schedule adjustment. “But this year I am confident about my game and it is just about putting numbers on the scorecard and trying to cut out the silly mistakes. Jut get sharper, that’s the reason I’m here.”