US Open 2014: Rory McIlroy seeks out Jack Nicklaus' help in quest to avoid more meltdowns

'Golden Bear' guides young Ulsterman through difficult period as he prepares for this week's tournament

pinehurst

The Palm Beach office of Jack Nicklaus is the default decompression chamber of Rory McIlroy. Two hours in the company of uncle Jack is all that's required to restore our troubled hero to a state of equilibrium.

McIlroy has dealt openly with the tension at the heart of his domestic life following the split with his fiancée Caroline Wozniacki. Victory at Wentworth last month concealed the depth of the emotional maelstrom that engulfed him. Negative commentary, not entirely unexpected, coming out of the Wozniacki camp, intensified an already molten experience.

A week after his Wentworth triumph, McIlroy walked into Jack's Garden at the Memorial Tournament in Ohio and nailed a second-round 78 to an opening 63, three better than the field. Over lunch that week Nicklaus asked McIlroy "how the hell did that happen?" The question prompted a more forensic interrogation of the Nicklaus archive in how to deal with this golfing life.

The result, McIlroy hopes, is a reconstituted golfer, calibrated to get the most of a talent, beginning this week, that Nicklaus acknowledges may be even more profound than his own. "I had a great conversation about everything, business, golf, brand, the whole lot," McIlroy explained. "I got a lot from that. He said to me he was never afraid to change things up in the middle of a round if it wasn't going well. He'd make a swing change right then and there. The mental strength to be able to do that and trust what you're doing is amazing.

"Some of the things he said to me, I'm really thinking about going into this week. He was a great US Open player and hopefully some of those little nuggets of wisdom that he passed on to me might help this week."

It will need to if McIlroy is to avoid a repeat of the same kind of Memorial meltdown that has hit episodically this year. Given a choice the golfers would snap hands clean off for conditions presently making our footballers scream in Manaus. At least Amazonian greens wreathed in moisture would be hospitable hosts to golf balls raining out of the sky.

Baked dry in heat nudging 100°F Pinehurst's elevated, convex saucers have acquired a concrete sheen that threatens to scramble brains as well as scorecards. Pre-tournament forecasts are at the mercy of caprice to a far greater degree than the antediluvian architects of this beautifully restored masterpiece imagined.

‘I had a great conversation about everything,’ said Rory McIlroy after meeting Jack Nicklaus (Getty) ‘I had a great conversation about everything,’ said Rory McIlroy after meeting Jack Nicklaus (Getty)
Meditations about the retreat from a penal rough to which the United States Golf Association have been historically wedded in favour of wider fairways that bleed into naturally occurring scrub have been rendered almost irrelevant. This tournament is not so much about the tee shot but the chip and the putt. The golfer who wins this week is the one who smiles when his beautifully hit approach rolls back off the green, and responds by pitching it dead.

"You're going to have to be really creative and inventive around these greens. And that's what I've been working on the past couple of weeks, trying to play a lot of different shots and be comfortable with shots I might need here," McIlroy said.

You might argue, given the sentiment attaching to Phil Mickelson, that the organisers had Lefty in mind when they threw the pitch fork and spade to Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to return this fabled terrain to the template rolled out a century ago by Donald Ross. A maiden US Open title after six near-misses would add to the lustre and mystique of America's favourite golfer, the more so since he would join the elite company of those that have won all four major championships; Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods.

Mickelson has had a torrid time of it since winning the Open at Muirfield 11 months ago. The putter had been at the root of all evil, but his charge into the top 10 in Memphis last week significantly enhanced the mood and the adoption of a claw grip this week to soften the putting stroke has fired his appetite no end.

Mickelson has never given in to disappointment on the golf course. He is relentlessly upbeat and views a bad break or set-back as an incentive to get his own back. The aura of positivity has rubbed off on that other left-handed maverick with a substantial hold on the American imagination. Bubba Watson has won twice this season, including a second Masters victory in three years, finished second twice and third once.

This upswing in fortune he attributes to a new mental approach. No longer does Watson see failure as an affront. Like many a new father, the arrival of a child has led to a welcome reordering of things. "We started last year talking about rejoicing. 2014 is about rejoicing, rejoicing in all the blessings that I have in my life. My beautiful wife, beautiful son, my team around me, I get to play golf on the PGA Tour. Sometimes I lose perspective of that, of how great we have it on the PGA Tour, how great we have it to play golf for a living."

Watson is choking down on the big stuff here, adopting a more calculating approach to a course to which his game is better suited than you might think. "I grew up at a golf course called Tanglewood in Milton Florida. This looks like the same golf course, so I'm used to hitting out of sand and hard pan. Natural areas they call it here. We call it weeds where I grew up."

Three to watch: Pinehurst pretenders

Phil Mickelson 14-1

Has identified the driver and putter as his key weapons this week. Short game genius. Great value if the preferred claw grip gets the ball rolling on the greens.

Bubba Watson 16-1

Says he is going to choke it down off the tee in favour of a more tactical approach. Still monster long, and wider, rough-free fairways bring Bubba into contention.

Luke Donald 40-1

The winner will be the player who deals best with the up-turned saucers called greens. The reconfigured Pinehurst No 2 might just be made for the king of the up-and-down.

Selected tee-off times

(US unless stated; all times BST)

Starting at hole 1:

12.18pm S Garcia (Sp), J Day (Aus), B Snedeker

12.29pm H Stenson (Swe), M Kuchar, L Westwood (Eng)

12.40pm W Simpson, R McIlroy (NI), G McDowell (NI)

12.51pm I Poulter (Eng), M A Jimenez (Sp), T Jaidee (Thai)

6.14pm S Cink, J Leonard, Y E Yang (Kor)

6.25pm B Watson, A Scott (Aus), C Schwartzel (SA)

6.36pm E Els (SA), D Clarke (NI), L Oosthuizen (SA)

6.47pm J Dufner, K Bradley, M Kaymer (Ger)

6.58pm H Mahan, F Molinari (It), J Donaldson (Wal)

Starting at hole 10:

12.51pm J Rose (Eng), A-M Fitzpatrick (Eng), P Mickelson

6.25pm L Donald (Eng), H English, P Casey (Eng)

6.47pm R Goosen (SA), G Ogilvy (Aus), L Glover

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Extras
indybest

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Life and Style
news

As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”

Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition