Nicklaus says McIlroy poised for greatness
The 25-year-old Irishman is on the same trajectory as the major record holder
Rory McIlroy meets Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson (left) and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (right) at Stormont Castle after winning the Open Golf Championship. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Jack Nicklaus has told Rory McIlroy he can become one of golf’s greatest ever players if he chooses to.
The 25-year-old Northern Irishman claimed his third major title at the weekend when he lifted the Open Championship at Hoylake.
That put him on a similar trajectory to those which saw Nicklaus himself and Tiger Woods, who is currently four shy of the older man’s record of 18 majors, surge to the forefront of the world game.
Asked if McIlroy could emulate their feats, Nicklaus said: “He certainly, at his age, is on par to do that, and I would be very surprised if he doesn’t.
“I think a lot of it depends on what Rory’s desire and focus are in what he wants to accomplish with his life. “There are a lot of guys who decide they want to be a good player and have some success and financial success — and they decide they want to live a normal life rather than totally dedicated to golf and to their sport.
“There are other athletes who decide that records are important to them and it’s important to leave a legacy as the best player of their time or ever, and that’s fine too.
“Whichever direction Rory heads, I think he will be successful at whatever he does. He’s a nice young man, he’s very talented. He’s the one who has to decide how he wants to focus and how hard he wants to work for what he is going to do. He certainly has the ability to do so.”
Woods’ pursuit of Nicklaus has stalled somewhat stalled in recent years, but it is not something which unduly concerns the 74-year-old. Indeed, it was not a particular focus during his career and he revealed he was not even aware that he was approaching Bobby Jones’ then record of 13 majors until he was told by the media.
Nicklaus said: “What was important to me — and far more important to me — was my family, and being able to know my kids, know my kids as they grew up, spend time with them as they started doing their career, to start to do things with them.
“Particularly my early 40s, I was still quite capable of playing golf, but I was only playing 11 or 12 tournaments a year. “But I was far more interested in my kids’ high school football, basketball, baseball, golf, tennis, whatever it amounted to. “And that, to me, I wouldn’t trade that for another two or three majors. There was a balance in my life that I’m very proud of and I’m very happy with.
“Barbara and I celebrated our 54th wedding anniversary yesterday. Those are the important things in life to me, not whether I won 18, or 19 or 20 major championships.
“Rory will make that call and those decisions as he gets a little older, as he sees his career progress. That’s not something for somebody to push onto him one way or the other.”
Nicklaus, however, admitted he sees parallels between McIlroy and himself at 25, and predicted more success for Irishman.
He said: “When I was 25, I probably played golf courses a little bit more with power than I did with finesse. “I think Rory has a tendency to do that and it has served him well on several occasions, but probably doesn’t serve him well on other occasions — and didn’t serve me well on some other occasions.
“But as you get older, you sort of say, ‘Hey, I think I’d rather play that from 160 yards than 120 yards out of foot-deep rough’. That’s maturity and age.
“I certainly don’t have any criticism of Rory by any means because his career is progressing very nicely and I think he is going to win a lot of major championships.
“I love his swagger, I love his demeanour, I love the way he has a confident cockiness, yet not offensive with it. It’s self-confidence, I guess you’d call it, and I like that in him.
“I’ve spent a little bit of time with him and I like him very much.”
Meanwhile, Nicklaus predicted Woods’ continuing struggle for form would not cost him a place in Tom Watson’s United States Ryder Cup team. He said: “If I was a captain, I would be hard-pressed — I don’t care what he does between now and then, if Tiger wants to play, I would certainly choose him.
“My guess is that Tom feels pretty much the same way. Tom would certainly like to have Tiger on his team and I think anybody in their right mind — unless he just doesn’t want to play or doesn’t think he could play — would not choose him.”