Hoylake, 18 July 2023: Expectations and excitement precede the action, celebration and disappointment at sporting events. Especially so in golf, where the athletes congregate four or five days ahead of the real action. The pregnant pause from Monday through Wednesday when players prepare themselves is often filled with exchanges of inquiry and reflection. These interactions are particularly informative in the lead-up to a major tournament spiced up by their past history and the potential opportunity of lasting fulfilment or gnawing disappointment.
At the 151st Open, some gladiators of the sport have been presenting themselves with aplomb, underlining the clarity and sharpness of their minds. Their words serve to remind us that their mastery of the game and life extends beyond the physical realm. In speaking for the game and themselves, they exhibit a fitness of mind that nearly matches their bodily excellence.
Rory McIlroy was caught up in the maelstrom of the PIF driven reconfiguration of the sport, has also been eager to break the drought and win his first major since the PGA Championship in 2014. After a painful missed cut at the Masters, McIlroy took a step back to reflect and relax. Since then he finished second in the US Open and T7 in the PGA Championship. He also earned a thundering victory in the Scottish Open last week, when he upstaged Robert MacIntyre with birdies on the last two holes.
But McIlroy continues to carry the scars of his unrequited love for the Masters.
“I felt like my game was in really good shape, and I didn’t produce what I need to produce the first two days, and that was disappointing,” McIlroy told the Golf Channel. “I think I learned a lot from that and just about playing a golf tournament. Seventy-two holes is a long time. A lot can happen. It’s a journey. It’s a journey to get yourself into contention, and to be there on Sunday afternoon, and there’s a lot of golf shots to be hit and a lot of golf to be played.
“The worst thing you can do in this game is get ahead of yourself.”
On Monday, Rory McIlroy, for the second straight major politely declined an invitation for a press conference.
In his studied silence, McIlroy makes a sturdy point about his need for space and an undying commitment towards creating the circumstances needed for his success. Others speak their mind, in part to fulfil their obligations to the tournament, in part to nurture their personality and presence on the professional circuit.
Jon Rahm on the other hand took to the press, contending with questions related to his game and the state of the sport with aplomb. Even defending the embattled Jay Monahan for being professional with his family.
“My opinion of him? Well, there’s been obviously big changes for all of us. First, I would like to say I did get a text from him but I haven’t been able to speak to him,” said Rahm. “I hope whatever he had wasn’t too serious, and I hope him and his family are doing good and his health has gone back to normal.
“I wouldn’t say it’s changed. Jay has behaved so professionally and so well with me and my family,” added the Masters champion. “I’ve seen him stop to talk to my dad and my mom at a few tournaments now, and he’s been really good to my family. In that sense, he’s a really good man. That’s all I can say.”
Rahm was equally eloquent speaking of the pressure and expectations that define major golf. “Pressure is pressure, higher or lower. If you can act the same every single time and have the same routine and perform, you might be able to do it when it really counts on the golf course,” he said.
“A lot of times you don’t know until you get yourself in that situation. You find yourself for the first time in a major championship with a chance and you’re going to learn a lot about yourself.”
Collin Morikawa found himself tied in knots, trying to explain why people continue to play with the name of The Open.
“I definitely called it the British Open the year I won and then people gave me hate for it, so then I called it The Open last year, but I played better when I called it the British Open, so I might call it the British Open,” he told me.
“But obviously British pertains to certain parts of Europe, but I guess — I’m not too good with this whole geography, world stuff,” he added.
“I think people understand whether you say British Open or The Open. At the end of the day if you win it you can call it whatever the hell you want.”
Perhaps, they can all just call the tournament by its name, which is “The Open.”