Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Can You Peak for the U.S. Open?

Rory McIlroy decided to skip the Memorial this year, after initially pledging to be there. He has a nagging rib injury that is worrisome and he apparently felt it best to rest and prepare himself instead for a run at the U.S. Open at Erin Hills. 

However, I recently saw a tweet from Rory that suggests he was not exactly resting or recuperating during Memorial week. He was hitting balls. He apparently talked to Jack about his withdrawal, and Jack, at least publicly, appeared to have accepted his withdrawal. Not that he really had much choice. It wasn't like Jack wanted to come out against Rory. It wouldn't have been good for the squeaky clean image the PGA tour tries to portray for Jack to call out one of its stars for not living up to his commitments.

Jack did, however, make it quite clear that he, Arnie, and Gary played more than a few tournaments to which they had committed despite not being physically one hundred percent. When asked about how many they withdrew from for similar reasons, his response was a zero formed by his thumb and forefinger. Sure, it was a different time when Jack and Arnie played. But I was appalled to see Rory posting a picture of himself hitting balls after pulling out. Ultimately, I guess Rory must let his conscience be his guide. He obviously wants to arrive at  Erin Hills in top form. And if withdrawing from Jack's tournament was what he felt was the best means to that end, I guess he was prepared to risk offending the greatest Major champion of all time to do it.

Now, I'm not the least bit interested in criticizing Rory. In fact, I have been a big fan of his--at least prior to his skipping the Rio Olympics. I thought that was in very poor taste. I have been less bullish on Spieth, Day, and DJ for the same reason. I thought their reasons for skipping Rio were crap; and I still do. And I think these mega-rich, top players owe the game much more than that. I like golfers that don't withdraw from tournaments for selfish reasons. 

Again, however, my reason in writing this article is not to have a go at Rory, or Jordan, or DJ, but rather to discuss the virtue--or even the feasibility--of trying to peak for the Majors, as Rory obviously hopes to do. Golf is a strange game. And to deal with the subject of peaking for the big ones, I have to refer back to the player who did it the best ever--Bobby Jones.

Jones wrote about his Grand Slam victory and said that he was not, in fact, in his best form for any of his Grand Slam wins. During that incredible summer he said he was only at his best at a tournament in Augusta that didn't matter as far as his quest to win them all in one season is concerned. So, how did he do it?

Bobby said he believed that he simply tried harder than his fellow competitors, was willing to take more punishment--physical and psychological--and for reasons even he couldn't really understand, he simply refused to give up even when the prospect of actually winning appeared to be bleak. That was the reason he won all four of them.

So, as far as Rory being able to peak is concerned, good luck to him. If he manages to do so, he will likely be the winner. But only if he has a similar attitude to the one Bobby Jones had. He must be willing to stand up to the challenges presented by the golf course, his fellow competitors, possibly the weather, and ultimately his own psyche. Because, like every player in the field, there will come a time when Rory is tempted to quit. He has to know and understand that winners never do.