I don’t know what’s wrong with Rory McIlroy but I do know that golf can be a cruel game when mental disintegration takes hold. As a two times former major winner there’s no hiding place from the legions of well-intentioned amateur psychologists who think they have all the answers. The Ulsterman cut a lonely and disconsolate figure, bungling his way from the rough to the sand during his truncated visit to Muirfield, a hellish passage which brought a twelve over par total for two rounds and a free weekend with his thoughts. I’d leave him alone. You can’t have your sports stars just how you want them to be, and in truth there’s not a lot wrong that won’t just slot back into place naturally.
Jeez, did they need that? Though the enormity of the moment might have been lost on any casual observers, Adam Scott was only too aware. I am always fascinated by the psychology of sport, what it takes to separate those with mere talent from those with the mental conditioning to maximise it. Standing over a putt to win the Green Jacket at Augusta is just about as big as it can possibly get for any golfer. Imagine the feeling in the stomach, the myriad thoughts and emotions flooding through the mind. Then factor in your own personal demons, how you crumbled previously when you could almost reach out and touch that long-cherished goal. Add on the curse of a nation and think of how this legendary course had brought only heartbreak to your countrymen who had found themselves in a similar position. Or don’t think. Think of nothing. Clear the head and roll it gently towards the cup. Watch, almost detached, as it drops. Take a deep breath, hear the roars of the crowd, and you’ll be a man my son.
Before America could learn to love the Ryder Cup it had to grow to respect it, and before it could respect it, well, it had to suffer the pain of defeat a few times. For a nation that doesn’t do defeat this was a difficult concept to come to terms with. Scotland might be the cradle of golf, but only in the United States is it a religion, and Europe’s cheek in thinking it could stick it up to their betters amounted to little more than blasphemy. That, though, was then. Times have changed, and while bombast will forever be part of the American psyche, much of the high-handed arrogance which made them such a delight to beat has been replaced by a steely determination. This is serious business. The Ryder Cup is respected right enough now, and they want it back.