James Lawton at The Open 2013: Rory McIlroy tells Sir Nick Faldo - there’s more to life than chasing the majors

Faldo, winner of three Open and three US Masters titles, was an obsessive overachiever

You can almost touch the band of anger around the young golfer who so recently captivated the world. In the politest way Rory McIlroy makes his point as precisely as he might drill, on one of the better days he is so desperate to rekindle here at the 142nd Open, a perfect drive into the heart of the fairway.

It is a jab of a statement, aimed at the head of his arch critic. It is an announcement that when he comes back as the game's most uncharted talent, it will be entirely on his own terms.

Most emphatically, he says that if he does conjure again the most brilliant career momentum since the days of the young Tiger Woods it will have nothing do with the torrent of advice he has been receiving from Britain's most successful golfer, Sir Nick Faldo.

Faldo, winner of three Open and three US Masters titles, was an obsessive overachiever and McIlroy says, “It's a way I could never be. No, I could never be like him. I'm not like that.”

The huge difference which the 24-year-old Ulsterman is not shy to emphasise is that he will never mistake golf for the beginning and the end of the meaning of his life. “I will work as hard as I can,” he promises, “but there are other things which are important too.”

Faldo, who according to his former wife Jill, arranged for the inducing of the births of their three children so as to cause least disruption to his tournament schedule, is arguing that McIlroy needs to work a nine-to-five shift on the course and the practice range - and that for a few pivotal years he should shut out all those distractions which tend to come to a young man with a fortune of £68m accumulated in a few years. These, presumably, also include McIlroy's Danish girlfriend and tennis star, Caroline Wozniacki.

McIlroy was distinctly underwhelmed when Faldo and double major winner and former Ryder Cup captain Tony Jacklin issued their work plans. It was Faldo, though, who went most deeply under McIlroy's skin.

The winner of the US Open and PGA titles in a style which provoked talk of the new Tiger, and led his Ryder Cup team-mate Padraig Harrington to suggest he might match the American's total of 14 majors, said: “I saw that he [Faldo] said I should be at the course nine to five. I was actually on the range at 6:15am and got out of the gym at 6:15pm, actually a 12-hour day compared to his eight-hour day. Nick should know how hard this game is at times. And he's been in our position before. He should know how much work that we all do put into it.”

McIlroy has these last few days at least been vindicated by a tough work schedule on the flint-hard fairways, which are being watered overnight in an attempt to prevent them turning into a series of dustbowls. Certainly, he has put in the hours to promise a sharp improvement on the disconsolate figure he presented at the US Open, when his last round dissolved into a nightmare of doubt and club molestation.

“I played 18 holes on the first Monday I came here, I played 27 on the Tuesday - and then I played 18 Sunday, 18 Monday, 18 yesterday and I'll play nine today. So that's a lot of holes and I have played in two different winds. I've played in the west wind over the last few days and the east wind last week. This should prove quite beneficial. I also have a new driver in the bag, which is slightly different to the one I've been using.

“It's a different head shape, more of a pear shape, but it encourages the club face to close over a little bit more. My bad drive this year has been losing it to the right, so this is encouraging the club face to square up on impact and, obviously, I'm not getting that right shot any more, which is a huge plus. I'll hit anywhere between five and seven drivers this week, depending on the wind.”

It was a brisk but engaging performance by a young man plainly feeling more pressure than at any time since he burst forth as potentially the game's most compelling talent. He recovered brilliantly from a bad lie on the issue of sexism at this club which sits on the East Lothian coastline as a classic example of linksland golf and male obduracy, adding to a most evasive answer with a few graceful throw-away lines.

He said: “This is an issue in some golf clubs but in terms of life in general, I think men and women are treated equally for the most part these days. And I think this is how it should be.”

 

Get Adobe Flash player

 



His most anxious admirers will hope for such adroitness this morning when he tees off in the company of Phil Mickelson and Japan's recently impressive Hideki Matsuyama. McIlroy accepts the level of the challenge he faces now but also insists that if the last year has been tough the bleakness of it has maybe been overstated - and certainly brought excessive reactions from Faldo and Jacklin.

“You know, there have been times when it hasn't felt so hard and I went on a great run from this point last year and until the end of the season. What I'm dealing with is life. When I hear the criticism from Nick, I think, ‘What's the big deal?' It's a good life. You are always going to go through highs and lows. It's just about trying to work your way through the lows.

“Yeah, it's true I haven't played my best golf this year, but I have shown there are signs that it is there and it's just a matter of doing that more often. At times it is quite difficult explaining why I'm not playing so well or why I haven't had the results that I have wanted over the last six months. But I know I'm working on the right things and I'm staying patient.

“I know that sooner or later it will turn around and I'll play the golf that everyone knows I'm capable of and it will be golf that I know is capable of winning major championships.”

What he has in mind on this scorched Scottish earth is the virtuosity of the performances that brought him those major titles which have been so quickly isolated in a gilded past. They were not so much victories as evidence of a game that could rise as quickly as the wind and yesterday the anger was at most distance when he talked of the challenge facing him here. It is one, he says, which will demand more of his imagination than his technique with the pear-shaped driver.

“It is thrilling when you have to think your way through and shape a shot, when your ability to visualise and imagine possibilities is the best attribute you have.”

The key to everything, he concludes, is your belief that you are doing the right things and that in the end they will get you to the place you want to be.” For Nick Faldo that has always been a high-efficiency  workplace. For McIlroy it is somewhere quite different. It is where you ride the wind and dream the greatest shots.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss