For someone who barely witnessed the 1980s (date of birth: May 4, 1989) and never spent a day in college, Rory McIlroy seems wise beyond his 23 years, at least when it comes to his chosen profession.
Learning from his greatest failure and brightest triumph — those within a span of 10 weeks — McIlroy applied the knowledge to the 94th PGA Championship, turning a tight leaderboard Sunday morning into an eight-stroke win 12 hours later, and a good season into a great one.
He never shied away from the glare that came from his collapse at last year’s Masters, and hasn’t put too much into his historic victory at the US Open two months later. Professional golfers are programmed to worry about the next tournament, not the last one.
But McIlroy is starting to build a memory bank from which he can make regular withdrawals. He already did.
“When I give myself a chance to win one of these big tournaments, I can draw on the memories of Augusta, of Congressional, and now of [Sunday], and know what I did out there, and know what to do again,” McIlroy said after his PGA victory.
For the second time in 14 months, McIlroy is being recognized as golf’s best player, No. 1 in the world rankings, blowing away the game’s best and deepest tournament field. The last time he won a major championship, at the 2011 US Open, McIlroy followed with spotty play over the next year-plus.
Should we expect the same now?
It’s easy to employ short-term memory and assume McIlroy will contend in the next major, and the next, and the next, and that he’s suddenly the greater threat to Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors, not Tiger Woods and his 14. Two majors in two years brings with it certain expectations — not to mention inevitable comparisons to Messrs. Nicklaus and Woods — something with which McIlroy will need to deal.
Knowledge comes with experience, and McIlroy, at least so far, appears to be a quick study. When you add his impressive talent and his desire to accomplish what only a few before him have done, it’s a combination that figures to only get better.
Emptying out the PGA notebook . . .
■ Golf always has prided itself on being a game played strictly by the rules, with its participants often slapping themselves with stroke-adding infractions when they could have said nothing and gotten away with it. But maybe it’s time to debate whether the hard-and-fast adherence to the rulebook should always be enforced, because what happened Sunday to Carl Pettersson doesn’t reflect well on the sport.
The two-stroke penalty given to Pettersson — whose club unintentionally flicked away a tiny leaf at the start of his takeaway while the ball was inside the hazard line — was, according to golf’s holy book, correct, because the leaf is considered a loose impediment, and his club moved it, which is a violation. But the incident was also extremely unlucky, and totally unnecessary. No advantage was gained, and there was no intent by Pettersson to cheat or deceive. Only after the video replay was slowed and enlarged could the moving leaf even be spotted.
The penalty also proved quite costly. Without it, Pettersson would have finished solo second. Instead, with the two strokes added, he tied for third. Earnings difference: $480,500.
Part of me says it’s time that a tournament’s rules committee be given the ability to apply similar decisions with common-sense discretion. Golf’s confusing rules — even Pettersson wasn’t aware that an infraction had occurred — turn people off when the minutiae of how the game is played looks and smells as bad as it did on Sunday.
■ No offense to David Lynn, who is the least-known and most-passed-over major championship runner-up since France’s Gregory Havret finished a shot behind Graeme McDowell at the 2010 US Open. Lynn, a 38-year-old from England, came in ranked 98th in the world, and had never played a professional tournament in the US before last week. His second gets him into next year’s Masters and PGA.
■ Woods continues to have a puzzling year. He has been very good at times (three wins, leads the money and points lists), very average other times (two missed cuts, T40 at the Masters). But it’s his weekend performance at the majors that is most perplexing. Tied for the lead after 36 holes at both the US Open and PGA, and in the mix at the British Open into the final round, Woods never broke par on either Saturday or Sunday this year at a major, quickly and convincingly taking himself out of contention with poor play and suspect decisions. Trying too hard? Part of the process, as he likes to say? He’ll have eight months — the time between now and next year’s Masters — to find the answer.
■ It will be interesting to see if the PGA of America brings this championship back to the Ocean Course. Players liked the course, but they weren’t subjected to long bus rides, the fate forced on the vast majority of spectators and the media. Ninety minutes each way was a safe average — 2 hours, 40 minutes the reported worst — since there’s only one main two-lane road into and off of Kiawah Island. If griping were an Olympic sport, determining the medal winners last week would have been quite a task.