How desperate is Rory McIlroy to arrest his slump?
He’s going over tape of his record-breaking, eight-shot victory at last year’s PGA Championship in the hope that he can find that young champion again before Thursday’s opening tee shot at Oak Hill.
“I’ve been watching a few videos of last year at Kiawah and watching some videos of some of my best weeks that I’ve played and it sort of lifted me a little bit,” he said Wednesday.
“I took some good things away from that.”
McIlroy is essentially hoping to trick himself into being the player he was before a devolution that reached rock bottom at last month’s British Open, when he shot a 79 at Muirfield and conceded that he was “brain dead” on the course.
What has he noticed of the young man in the tape, who this time last year not only won his second major by eight shots but would go on to win two of the four FedEX Cup Playoff events as well as his Ryder Cup singles match and then made birdie at each of the last five holes to win — by a single shot — the European Tour’s season-ending event in Dubai?
“More free flowing, more I guess swinging without care,” he said. “Obviously you have to care about where the ball is going, but swinging it like you’re giving it your all and ripping through the ball.
“Even walking between shots … I think everyone sees when I walk and I’m playing well, I have that little bounce in my step, so just trying to get that going again and trying to get that positive energy back.”
That, of course, is easier said than done.
There’s only so much pep a golfer can have in his step when he’s making bogeys and missing cuts.
But there’s something to be said about walking on the sunny side of the street, especially for a player like McIlroy, who tends to hang his head when things aren’t going his way.
“There’s been times this year where I’ve really gotten down on myself and that’s something that hasn’t helped at all, and something that I’m trying to get better at,” he admitted.
For the umpteenth time, he sat before the world’s media and conducted an autopsy into his failings.
“First and foremost, I just haven’t been swinging it the best this year,” he said. “I got into a couple bad habits with my golf swing, and it’s just taken me a little bit longer to get out of them. Obviously when you’re fighting that so much, it’s hard to play the golf that I want to play, which is fluid, which is free-flowing.
“There’s been that, and I guess just every time you play and you don’t play well, it sort of chips away at your confidence a little bit, and it’s just about building that back up.
“But I’m sitting here as confident as I have been all year, so I’m looking forward to getting going this week.”
McIlroy says he’s looking to his friend, Tiger Woods, for inspiration as he fights through his struggles.
“People were writing him off at this time a couple of years ago — whatever he was, he was outside the top 50 in the world. Now he’s back to (No. 1),” he said. “It’s very inspirational in a way.”
Although he won’t blame the Nike equipment he switched to — for at least $100 million — McIlroy did concede that he made a mistake by scheduling lightly at the start of the year.
“That’s one thing I regret. I didn’t play enough at the start of the year,” he said. “I played Abu Dhabi and took like four weeks off. I didn’t play and I needed to get into a run of events.”
McIlroy is well-liked, and his peers often come to his defense, as Ian Poulter did on Wednesday when he said people should “give him a break.”
“I think sometimes we forget how young he is and what he’s been able to achieve at a very early age,” said the Englishman. “That natural swing of his doesn’t just disappear overnight, and I think he’s had to cope with an awful lot of things and changes that he’s had in the last 10 months.”
Which probably brings us closer to the truth.
“The way I look at it is that he has had an awful lot going on this year and he has got his time management wrong,” said one of McIlroy’s closest confidantes, putting coach Dave Stockton. “I don’t think the clubs change has had much to do with it, but he’s had that and the management split and (girlfriend) Caroline (Wozniacki) and it’s balancing all this with putting in the work to be the best player in the world.
“That’s where I think he’s fallen down this year. He’s 24, with all that going on. He just needs to get the balance right.