‘I feel like I’m walking around out there and I’m unconscious’
Ulsterman suffers meltdown in first round of British Open as he slumps to an ugly 79
The words tumbled out of his mouth with a randomness that captured his utter frustration. “Sometimes, I feel like I’m walking around out there and I’m unconscious,” said Rory McIlroy of a state of mind more akin to that of a zombie than someone focused on winning a Major championship. In his moment of honesty, he finally left a window open which allowed us to catch a glimpse of the turmoil within.
What is going on? If there was some realisation that maybe the outside assistance of a sports psychologist, utilised by the vast majority of his peers, might “be beneficial”, McIlroy talked of a game in crisis. “It’s a very alien feeling, it’s something I’ve never felt before,” he admitted, before adding words like “brain dead” to describe some of the shots that were executed with all the touch of a surgeon wielding a chainsaw.
One moment encapsulated McIlroy’s woes more than any other. It came on the par-four 15th where he putted from off one side of the green and watched as the ball rolled past the flag, off the putting surface and into the bunker behind some 30 yards away. It led to an ugly double bogey six but the manner of its compilation, as much as the number itself, was symptomatic of a player with no control of his own destiny.
The first round 79 that McIlroy posted meant that his quest for the British Open died on its feet almost as soon as he got off and running. It was like a punch to the stomach. After all, he’d done all the preparatory work, played the links in practice until he knew every blade of grass and nuance, and was set for the challenge only to be left wondering what has gone wrong when he puts a competitive card in his hands.
“I mean, I feel like I made a lot of progress over the last couple of weeks, and then shooting a round like this, is obviously not what you want. And you’ve got to go back to the drawing board and think about what you need to do differently or what you need to do better to improve,” said McIlroy.
How many times this season has he gone back to the drawing board? “Basically every week this year,” he conceded.
At a loss to work it all out, another drawing board awaiting, McIlroy observed: “I don’t know what you can do. You’ve just got to try and play your way out of it. But it’s nothing to do with technique. It’s all mental out there. I just need to concentrate, obviously . . . I’m trying to focus and trying to concentrate. I can’t really fathom it at the minute, and it’s hard to stand up here and tell you what’s really wrong.”
He expanded: “All you’re trying to do is get the ball in the hole in the least amount of shots as possible. That’s all you’re thinking about out there or trying to think about, anyway.
And that’s what I’ve been so good at in the past, and obviously that’s the point I’m trying to get back to . . . I’m fully focused on the golf out there. But it’s been fully focused on each and every shot and what you really want to do with it and visualisation and everything. It’s just something I’ve never experienced before.”
The round wasn’t actually McIlroy’s highest in the British Open – that came when he shot a second round 80 at St Andrews in 2010 – but it constituted his highest opening score, taking in a outward 37 that didn’t hint at the real damage that came in an inward 42 that featured four bogeys, two double-bogeys and a lone birdie.
It was the latest in a run of disappointments for McIlroy in a season that saw him walk off the course in the second round of the Honda Classic in Florida back in March and where he has failed to rediscover the magic that made him the world number one last year, when he topped the money lists in both Europe and on the US Tour.
McIlroy hasn’t blamed his clubs – having moved to Nike from Titleist – nor has he blamed his technique, putting the ball fairly and squarely into court of his mental state. “I feel like I’m hitting the ball okay. I just can’t put it altogether mentally out there . . . I’m definitely under-thinking on the golf course, maybe over-thinking it off of it.”
A trip back to Dr Bob Rotella on the agenda? “I’ve worked with Bob before a little bit. And, yeah, it could be beneficial to see someone like that again, we’ll see.”
More immediately, McIlroy will set about trying to salvage this championship. As improbable as that would seem, he wasn’t throwing in the towel.
“As long as I can somewhat get my mind in a better place, you know, I can go out there and try and shoot a good score,” said McIlroy.