US Open 2022: Rory McIlroy may shoulder a sport but he wants this major for himself


US Open 2022: Rory McIlroy may shoulder a sport but he wants this major for himself

BROOKLINE, Mass. – Rory McIlroy has been fighting for the soul of golf in recent weeks. On Thursday, in the first round of the 122nd US Open, he reminded everyone why his words carry so much weight.

McIlroy is a great communicator, period. He has served as the game’s leading spokesman for what its future holds 10 or even 50 years from now, and in doing so he has offered insightful insight, wise advice and a way forward for a game whose balance has been brought about by the Duel LIV Golf-PGA Tour unbalanced.

There are other great speakers in the game too, but they don’t shoot 67s over their first 18 holes at The Country Club.

The four-time Major winner is in an eight-year drought when it comes to winning big ones, but McIlroy started the week as well as he has played in years. A near-miss at the Masters in April, a lost first-round lead at the PGA Championship in May, and a win at last week’s RBC Canadian Open — in which he won over 20 shots and held off Tony Finau and Justin Thomas — were perhaps his best lead to the US Open to date.

His game is tighter than a Tiger Woods mockneck jersey at the moment.

On Thursday, McIlroy was building towards something near perfect with pars on the first six holes and two birdies in his last three in the back nine of the course (starting No. 10). A ridiculous par save on the difficult second par 3 hole and an impossible one from a bunker on the short par 4-5. Loch kept the momentum going downhill. Rory then shagged No. 7 and No. 8 to bring his score down to 4 before a frustrating bogey at the end led to a club throw and some words NBC couldn’t even broadcast if they wished.

McIlroy was unusually dour for someone divided for the clubhouse lead at the United States Open. It was certainly the angriest 67 he’s ever shot.

In addition to the club throw, McIlroy unloaded on a bunker on this 5th hole after hurling one from the juiciest trash into another bunker a few yards away. After his round, he called the players in front of his group about their slowness and explained why he was so frustrated.

“You’re going to encounter things at a US Open, be it lies or something like that, that you don’t really encounter any other week,” McIlroy said of the 5th hole. “It’s hard not to be frustrated because I’ll go up there and say, ‘Just come back to the bunker.’ The thickest rough on the course is at the edges of the bunkers.

“I kind of cursed the USGA when I went to the ball. It’s one of those things. It happens here, it doesn’t happen anywhere else. You just have to accept it. I gave the sand a few whacks because I had already screwed up, so it wasn’t like it was a lot more work for [caddie] Harry [Diamond]and then I just backed up and played a decent bunker shot and then potting that putt was really nice.

“But yeah, you’re going to encounter things this week that you don’t typically encounter in the other weeks of the year, and you just have to try to accept them as best you can.”

If you’ve been following McIlroy for more than the past three days, it’s easy to second-guess him on outbursts like this. While he’s not immune to criticism for club throwing and sand digging projects, it’s also a bit of a joy to see someone who at major championships sometimes looked like he was sleepwalking, clear-eyed and totally committed.

When asked if he thought it was okay to show competitive anger on the golf course – to remind others how important the majors are – his response was typically great.

“Yes, of course,” he said. “Almost to remind myself sometimes how much it means to you too.”

All four of McIlroy’s major wins involved first rounds in which he scored 67 points or fewer, and in those four – US Open 2011, PGA Championship 2012, Open Championship 2014, PGA Championship 2014 – McIlroy was either in the lead or within a round the lead after Round 1. That’s likely a position he’ll find himself in when Thursday’s round concludes.

Certainly the dynamic load of an entire sport has eroded his emotions in ways he may not even realize. When players, media, and even executives at the highest level of the game ask what they think is the best way forward, the taxation is immense.

After the round, however, McIlroy deferred his role as the pre-eminent statesman of a game that’s a century and a half old.

“I’m just me,” he said. “I live my life. I do what I think is right and try to play the best golf I can. I wasn’t asked to come here. I wasn’t trying to be in that position. I am simply myself.”

The problem for McIlroy is that he may be the greatest driver in the history of the sport, and he could be an even better speaker. His playing gives gravity to his words, and gravity rules the world.

However, when the US Open takes hold, it will be nice to put aside the talk of brouhahas and rows between organizations fighting an unjust but inevitable war. Even McIlroy, when asked if he would like to win this tournament to consolidate his power to turn the tide of his sport even further, instead looked from the future to the past and now to the present.

He was doing what we all should be doing – at least for the next three days – by reminding everyone of the historic grandeur of the grand championship that is now underway and could soon be within his reach. A major championship taking place now based on the unintended consequences of the dilution of regular season golf means more than ever.

“Not really,” McIlroy said when asked if, as the heart of the sport off the pitch, he was inspired to make a statement.

“It’s been eight years since I’ve won a Major and I just want to get my hands on one again.”

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