McIlroy has Masters mental block “with a capital B” says psychologist

McIlroy has Masters mental block “with a capital B” says psychologist

Rory McIlroy could face years of Masters anguish if he does not address the mental game shortcomings that led to "five hours of choking" at Augusta National.

That's the view of leading sports psychologist Dr Gio Valiante, the mental coach who helped Justin Rose win the US Open in 2013.

McIlroy finished dead last for strokes gained putting on Sunday as he finished fifth after an error-strewn 74. 

But for Valiante, who has also worked with Jack Nicklaus, Davis Love III and Matt Kuchar, McIlroy's golfing immaturity will remain his Achilles' heel unless he addresses the issue.

"Augusta National can punish if you play too aggressively," Valiante told Golf Channel on Monday. "So until he starts to play more maturely — until Rory McIlroy learns how to play more patient and tactical golf — I don’t see him winning at Augusta. 

Dr Gio Valiante with Justin Rose

Dr Gio Valiante with Justin Rose

"He has to learn to play the way that Jack Nicklaus did at the height of his career, the way that Tiger Woods has done it, even the way that Jordan Spieth does it, managing his game.

"It’s not lack of maturity as a human being, it’s the way he plays the game. 

"Tiger Woods liked to play aggressively but there has got to be some discipline. Tiger and Jack Nicklaus — they could win multiple ways.  Rory can’t. Rory can win and shoot 62 or 64. But it is very random and the pattern of his career has proven that. 

"It is hard to criticise a guy who has won as much as he has. But look at the talent. The way you look at a player is talent and the mental game. 

"A guy like Rory has this much talent (indicating chest level) but his mental game is down here and it brings his talent down. 

Jordan Spieth

Jordan Spieth

"Whereas a guy like Jordan Spieth, whose mental game is right up here, it brings his talent up. 

"I hate to criticise Rory because he is a wonderful person and a wonderful human being. But the things that are happening to him are causal. They are known. It is not random. 

"Until he actually addresses it and fixes it, this is what his career is going to look like, I can guarantee that. 

"He could have won on Sunday, and I still would have been right. He could have got hot, but nothing would have changed."

McIlroy admitted at Augusta in 2016 that the Masters was a "mental hurdle that I'm struggling with at the minute."

But until he changes his mental approach, Valiante just sees him building up more scar tissue.

"He is going to win more because he is so talented but now he is more scarred," he said. "That was five hours of choking. That wasn’t an hour. He was bad from the first tee shot. 

"When you clearly have emotional baggage and the chemical things that happen in the brain with the amygdala firing, the mental block that he admitted to, two years ago, just got a capital B on it.  

"That’s just the unfortunate reality. And as we saw with Sergio Garcia, there is nothing inevitable in golf. It is not a guarantee that Rory is going to win this golf tournament. 

"Sergio got his major but, boy oh boy, we often talk about how many he could have had if he had, had he matured earlier.  So with Rory until this gets addressed, this is what it’s going to look like."

For Valiante, Spieth continues to set the gold standard for mental strength and sees more success for the American and streaky success for McIlroy.

"I have said it since I first met him in 2014," he said "Jordan Spieth has the best mental toolbox in the game of golf. We talked about the mental game helping a golfer’s technical game and Jordan is a living, breathing example of that. 

"Look at Rickie Fowler, Rickie is a wonderful chaser.   He relaxes and he starts making birdies. I think he’s ready to win a major. You see the patterns that show up now and again. 

"Jordan Spieth will continue to do Jordan things for the rest of his career because his game is built on sustainable, repeatable processes. I think Rory is going to continue to be streaky."