There is no doubt that Rory McIlroy has cut a rather depressing figure of late. It may be cliché to write about the world number three, only writing about Tiger Woods would be more frowned upon. Whether you agree he deserves his current world ranking or not, there is a distinct - and self acknowledged - sense that all is not well in the McIlroy camp. Self described as 'brain dead' and having underperformed mostly in the European side of things, his decline in form has been blamed on everything from his relationship, to his sponsorship deals, to his choice of equipment. However, any person that chooses to disregard a golfer based on a bad year of play is a person that has missed the point altogether. Not only that, but they have also missed the point of golf as a developmental profession. It sometimes seems that the 'armchair golfers' love to see a man in a downward spiral.
For those searching for the 'new Tiger Woods', it was always going to end in disappointment. Golf is less about a fifteen minutes of fame and more about maturing and evolving play over time. Sure, the talent must exist, but if the mental attitude is not up to scratch a younger golfer will not be able to compete against any of the older pros.
Phil Mickelson recently proved this when he took the title at the British Open. This is a man who in 18 holes seemed to relish the chance to simply play a brilliantly competitive game. Starting the final Sunday five shots off the lead and going on to win is a feat, and one finished with style. The approach couldn't have been more different when compared to McIlroy who in comparison seemed strained and uncomfortable at every shot. But when we finally sit down in retrospect and judge a day, a year, or a career of golf we should be looking at development. Any dip in performance should not make us discard a golfer, leave that to the tabloids, we should welcome their improvement through coaching and practice.
Other golfers know, and sympathise with this. Paul McGuinley has been quoted as saying
"Looking back, when I was 24, I wish I got to know myself better. That would have helped my golf"Renowned performance consultant Bob Rotella has written that
"You will never know if you have the ability to be the best player in the world, or the best player in your club, unless you commit yourself to developing both your physical and mental skills"
Surrounded by television crews, paying customers, sponsorship deals, media opinion and even personal expectation, any golfer can succumb to pressure. It is not a new phenomenon. In the walk to the tee position, the bunker, the rough or the fairway you can almost see time slow. The crowd go silent and either the sun burns or the rain distracts. This figure is at once alone and at once watched by millions. The profession of golf is unique in that it is not a race to the finish line, but more of a evolutionary development that can span decades. It is for this reason no golfer should be discarded based on one year, regardless of his or her world ranking.