Home State Wide Rory McIlroy reminds us: ‘If you wish to hide your character, do not play golf’

Rory McIlroy reminds us: ‘If you wish to hide your character, do not play golf’


Australian Bruce Crampton surely would be a prime contender for the dubious title of greatest golfer to never have won one of the sport’s major championships. He won 45 professional tournaments around the world, including 14 on the PGA Tour.

Crampton twice won the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average on the tour. He finished second in four of the majors, once at the Masters, once in the U.S. Open and twice in the PGA Championship. If Jack Nicklaus did not exist, Crampton would have won those four majors.

Rick Cleveland

Crampton, a cerebral golfer, understood the sport as few men have. And he summed it up, perhaps, better than anyone ever has.

“Golf,” said Crampton, “is a compromise between what your ego wants you to do, what experience tells you to do, and what your nerves let you do.”

Rory McIlroy lost Sunday’s U.S. Open on all three levels: ego, experience and nerves. It was painful to watch.

This is to take nothing away from Bryson DeChambeau’s victory, his second U.S. Open championship. His par-4 on the 18th hole will be remembered as one of the greatest “up and downs” in golf history. Remarkable was all it was. When the tournament was on the line, McIlroy’s nerves failed him and DeChambeau’s were nerves of steel.

Hale Irwin, another golfer with steely nerve, won three U.S. Opens during his Hall of Fame career. He was at his best when it mattered most. He, as Crampton, understood golf at its essence. “Golf is the loneliest sport,” Irwin once said. “You are completely alone with every conceivable opportunity to defeat yourself. Golf brings out your assets and liabilities as a person. The longer you play, the more certain you are that a man’s performance is the outward manifestation of who, in his heart, he really thinks he is.”

You and I can only imagine how lonely McIlroy felt over the last three holes Sunday. We can only imagine all that was going through his mind. One of the most physically talented golfers in history of the sport, he had gone nearly a decade since winning a major. After winning four majors in four years, he has won none in nearly 10. It’s not like he hasn’t had his chances. Twenty-one times during the last decade, he has finished in the top 10 of a major. 

All that had to be going through his mind. In the end, it was too much.

Bobby Jones, probably the most universally beloved of all golf champions, may have said it best. “Golf,” Jones said, “is a game that is played on a five-inch course — the distance between your ears.”

That’s where McIlroy lost the U.S. Open — between his ears. The two missed short putts were strictly a case of nerves. He had made every short putt he encountered over the first 69 holes of the tournament. He had been perfect from five feet and closer. Then he missed the two that mattered most.

But nerves weren’t all that failed him. Ego factored in. Why else would he choose to hit driver on the 18th hole? His game plan all week had been to play it safe and hit 3-wood off the tee. He had made three pars the first three rounds. Instead, he hooked a driver into the rough. His ball stopped just inches ahead of a big tuff of wire grass, which made it impossible for him to strike his second shot cleanly. And even that wasn’t his last mistake. After his second shot, which was well done under the circumstances, he was left with a 90-foot uphill pitch to the hole.

Had he been thinking clearly, he would never have hit that chip shot past the hole. Any weekend golfer knows the difference in degree of difficulty between a short downhill putt and an uphill putt from the same distance. What’s more, McIlroy faced a downhill, sidehill knee-knocker that broke sharply to the right. He missed badly.

A few minutes later, DeChambeau made an uphill putt from about the same distance to win the tournament.

McIlroy did not distinguish himself in a good way afterward. He left the premises without doing interviews and without shaking the hand of the man who beat him. It was not a good look and brought to mind the words of Percey Boomer, one of the great early teachers of golf, who said, “If you wish to hide your character, do not play golf.”

It also brought to mind the words of the great champion Raymond Floyd who told us, “They call it golf because all the other four-letter words were taken.”

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