Nicklaus on Rory's step back from pressure: "You just don't get it back that fast"

Jack Nickaus spoke about Rory McIlroy at WImbledon yesterday. Nick Faldo puts Rory McIlroy’s recent struggles down to his inabilty to adjust to his new Nike equipment but Jack Nicklaus believes it’s more mental than technical and reckons the Holywood star simply took a step back from the massive pressure and demands that come with becoming a two-time major winner at the age of 23.

Speaking on Live at Wimbledon the 18-time major winner was asked why some players win a big event and then simply disappear and explained that in McIlroy’s case, it has been a question of stepping back and then finding it tough to flip the switch of brilliance back on again.

Nicklaus said: “There are some guys that are that way. And there are other guys who have been able to play consistent right on (through). A lot of times you find a fella who breaks through and in this day and age prize money is so high, that the demands on somebody’s time for winning a major is so great that all of a sudden they lose their focus for a period of time and all of sudden they say, ‘Ok, now I am done with that and I’ll get it back.’ Well, you just don’t get it back that fast.

“Just take Rory McIlroy. Rory McIlroy has won two major championships and the demands on his time have become very high. Nike has given him a huge contract. Financially he is set for life, he has a major championship for life but I don’t think that’s what satisfies Rory McIlroy. Now he’s been sort of doing ‘other things’ and now he is back to wanting to play golf again and he’s struggling. I think he’s struggling because I think it’s in between his head.

“Before he was grinding, grinding, grinding to get where he wanted, all of a sudden he has got a little bit more leisurely and has got less pressure…. you need the pressure. I think it is great to have the pressure. I enjoyed having it Every time I walked out at a tournament, they said, ‘Okay Jack, you’re the favourite, what do you?’

“Well, I said okay let’s go play. So you keep your game up, you keep working at it and that’s where guys have long careers. Obviously had a long career, Ernie’s had a long career, Tiger’s had a long career. You just have to keep at it. And Rory will get it back. He’s just going through a period… he’s too talented, he’s too hard working and too good a kid not to get it back. But that’s what happens.”

When McIlroy’s estimated $250m move to Nike was announced, Faldo was the first to call it a “dangerous” move and when speaking ahead of the Greenbrier Classic yesterday, the Englishman insisted  that the Holywood player had “very simply messed with a winning formula.”

“He had an equipment company (with which) he went from rookie of the year to world No 1 – and thought he could start again. As I said from Day One, this is a dangerous move.

“People said… he can adapt. Why should the world No 1 be adapting to something new? As we’ve discovered six months later, he’s still trying putters, still trying drivers. It’s not as easy. I was trying to express that we get a millisecond of feel (at) impact. If it’s going great, it builds confidence – and if it’s suddenly different to what you’ve been doing, or thinking you’re going to do, that hurts your confidence. I hope he hasn’t gone too far that it’s damaged his confidence.”

McIlroy is today testing with Nike to try and find a driver that will give him a chance in The Open at Muirfield in two weeks’ time.

His preparation for the third major of the season has not been ideal given that with his missed the cut at The Irish Open he will have played just 10 competitive rounds in the 56 days between the start of the BMW PGA at Wentworth and the start of the The Open.

Nicklaus deliberately wound down between majors but McIlroy has taken that to a new extreme, totally against his will.

“I always tried to build myself up,” Nicklaus said. “I always tried to climb a mountain and when I got done with a tournament, I wanted to fall into the valley. So I let myself down and programmed myself so that when the next major came along I just wanted to climb that mountain again.

“I just wanted to climb and climb and get better. I never wanted to be at my best on Thursday. I always wanted to be at my best by the weekend. So I was still trying to work on the first two rounds of the golf tournament and try to be my best on Saturday and try to maintain that on Sunday. I felt that was the way I could be my best and everybody is different.

“Everybody goes through it and has to find different ways to do it, find their own way to stay on top.

“I have spent a reasonable amount of time with Rory and several of the young guys. I am flattered they want to call a 73 year old guy, that’s pretty nice. It keeps me in the game, keeps me young and relevant to what is going on so I can understand what these guys are going through.

“They go through a lot different things that i did. Basically I talk to them to find out who they are. What their own make up is, what their own limits are and what their own strengths are. I don’t think it’s about how good you are or you are, it’s about how good they are. If you become a bad driver of the golf ball, how do you get around  that.

“If your strength of your middle iron game, how do you put yourself in position to hit enough middle irons because you really feel comfortable about being able to take advantage of the golf course from there. Everybody has got a different strength and that’s what I talk to them about and they keep coming back and that’s fine. I am happy to do that.”

Since he won his first major, McIlroy has gone from being a golfing star to a world celebrity and finding the balance between the two reminds one of actor Gary Oldman’s quote on the difference between a star and a celebrity.

Intensely private about his personal life, Oldman once said: “Being famous, that’s a whole other career. And I haven’t got any energy for it.”