The Last Word: Reaction to 'minor setback' shows Rory is a major player

Even Tiger Woods has tasted major defeat three times more often than victory

Of all the advice hurled ever so generously at Rory McIlroy in the last week, at least one piece can be ignored and placed on top of that putrid heap entitled "utter garbage". It was that his reaction to his Masters meltdown revealed a worrisome tolerance for defeat, which will make his pursuit of a major that much more testing.

However fancifully they couched it, the great self-serving contrarians basically told Rory he had to learn to lose like a winner. Scowl, don't smile. Grunt, don't engage. Dismiss, don't reason. But most importantly strike out, don't accept.

Of course, the "show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser" maxim was invoked. One can always gauge the depth of an argument when the Vince Lombardi quote-book is dusted off from the vaults of Google. I'll show you some good losers. Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Moore, Sachin Tendulkar, Roger Federer... what have they ever won between them?

The above examples, and countless others, make one wonder whether Lombardi could really have been talking about the external reaction to defeat. I don't know a great deal about the all-conquering Green Bay Packers of the late 1950s and early 1960s, but did Lombardi genuinely instruct his men to come out after a loss and behave like spoilt brats, giving the winners no credit, presenting no humility in reply? I very much doubt it.

My guess is Lombardi was talking about the internal reaction. In other words, he was talking about the flaming obvious. It does not take a genius to work out that the person who finds it easy to take defeat will not try to avoid it as much as the person who finds defeat difficult to take – and therefore is more likely to be a loser. To flip the coin, that's like saying "show me a good sword-swallower and I'll show you a sword-swallower". It's peerless logic, Janet and John style. Except, Lombardi's epigram sounds so damned profound it continues to be reeled off, just like his "winning isn't everything..." claptrap as well as some of those revered but quite frankly daft Shanklyisms.

Still it's not the late Lombardi's fault that his essentially glib statement rolls off the tongue so nicely that it has long been treated with unarguable virtue. Nor is it his fault that it's now dragged up by someone, somewhere whenever any delinquent needs excusing. So it is merely a mark of Wayne Rooney's passion, and how much he hates losing, when he bellows profanities about unsupportive fans into a TV camera. "Show me a good loser..." Yawn.

Naturally, the crass truism is employed more when the "loser" is simply being churlish or ungracious in post-match interviews (see Andy Murray, see Tiger Woods). And so long as they aren't offensive, I don't see any problem whatsoever in them being grumpy or unresponsive. It isn't edifying, but as humans with their own human characteristics, it's their right. But what I do have a problem with is when their grouchiness or curtness is lauded as part of what makes them a great champion. But even worse, when it is thrown in the face of someone such as McIlroy.

How can anyone have seen or heard anything but positive in the manner in which he took his 80? It would have been easy for the Northern Irishman to avoid the media immediately afterwards, present himself as a shattered youngster too distraught to talk. The golfing press would have understood; honest we would. Alternatively, he could have grunted one word answers, just like Woods. But no, McIlroy fronted up and did so with a dignity and – to use that dreaded word – a perspective that should establish him as a role model for those who are older, never mind younger.

Here was a 21-year-old whose vulnerability had been laid bare for the world to wince at and laugh at, probably in equal measure. He didn't moan, didn't shirk what he viewed as his responsibilities. Yet he did call it "a minor setback". Cue rage from the sporting pulpit.

"Minor? Bloody minor? This could derail his entire career," they screamed. "He shouldn't be taking it so well. He should be petrified how this will affect his future." Really? Why? How do they know how he has taken it? They don't, they can't. Just as nobody knows how McIlroy will cope with his demons, or even if he will have any demons. That's up to him, and whatever improvements he proceeds to make, either technically or mentally. But even then, who can be sure how he will react if and when the opportunity presents itself? Not even McIlroy himself. Although he is best placed to judge.

After all, he understands golf infinitely better than many of these newly discovered advisers. He understands that for the moment he must carry on, that he can't decamp to a lab for six months where they will rectify his pull-hook, his putting stroke or his psyche. McIlroy is no worse a golfer this Sunday morning than he was last Sunday morning. Only the perception has changed. That's the constantly changing nature of expectation for you, something he has coped with through the years of being a child golfing phenomenon.

Despite his rapid rise into the elite, there have already been setbacks for McIlroy, just as there have been for every professional. To adapt another Lombardi epigram: losing becomes the habit in golf. For everyone, that is. Even Woods has tasted the bitterness of major defeat three times more often than the sweetness of major victory. Think about that: the greatest winner golf has known for the last 25 years is fundamentally a loser when you tally the "played, won and lost" columns. Believe it, the Mr Grumpy we saw at Augusta is Tiger's default mode on a Sunday evening.

That's what makes golf so compelling. Even when you think you have the game beat, it ends up beating you. Not necessarily into submission, as some prematurely declare it will to McIlroy. But into coping how you best can cope. We should give thanks to the heavens that sport has a burgeoning superstar who copes with it the "right" way; i.e. the way in which we would like ourselves and our children to cope. And we can only pray to these same heavens it will establish McIlroy's as one of the game's winners. A good winner, at that.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
REX/Eye Candy
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?