Rory McIlroy is experienced enough to recognise the territory. He has also developed a useful capacity to ignore what he regards as unnecessary, if incessant, commentary.
The worst-case scenario is: a slow start to 2017 that leaves McIlroy out of sorts before his quest for the holy grail at the Masters in April. The explanation for this scene can be predicted, that an equipment switch – as triggered by Nike’s withdrawal from the market – will set back McIlroy. Just do not expect the man himself to pay much attention.
“People have even said once I changed from a Nike putter to a Scotty Cameron in September: ‘That’s why he is putting better again,’” McIlroy says. “That obviously wasn’t the case. I could have been putting with whatever; I’d done really good work with [putting coach] Phil Kenyon on my stroke and that’s what turned me into at least a better putter than I was in the summer. So it is all just noise that’s around you. I don’t plan on playing badly going into next year so hopefully none of that [comment] happens anyway.”
Georgia will inevitably already be on McIlroy’s mind. He will arrive at the Masters having played in at least seven tournaments in what represents an interesting alteration to the buildup for the first major of the year. McIlroy is surely destined to don at least one Green Jacket but the maiden success has naturally been the toughest to claim.
For those who read plenty into body language and golfing trends, the odds should be in favour of McIlroy re-establishing himself as the best player in the world next year. Injury, the Ryder Cup and the saga relating to the Olympic Games are pertinent factors in his 2016. But another difficult year, 2013, offered McIlroy useful experience, given the switch to Nike that prompted a longer transition than the outside world was willing to accept.
“Definitely,” says the world No2 in response to whether 2013 was a useful learning curve. “I was prepared to say: ‘OK I will take the first three or six months of the year and if I struggle, I struggle.’ I just needed to find what was right for me.
“One of the great things I’ve learned over the years is I can take a bigger picture of things. Say I’m on tour for the next 15-20 years, three to six months isn’t really that much time when you can reap the benefits. As I alluded to over the past few weeks everyone wants everything now but if you can afford yourself the chance to look into the future and say: ‘What will benefit me down the line?’ then there is value in doing it that way.”
McIlroy will spend a week in Dubai next month testing equipment. He has already started using TaylorMade woods and it would not be the end of the world if Nike irons remain in his bag for the new season.
The four-times major winner says: “That could happen. I have two more sets of these irons so they will last me for at least five years. I go through about a set every year and a half. I really like this ball but I will test what’s out there. Nike’s chief golf ball engineer has gone to Callaway so I will test a few of those because I know how good he is. The ball he made for me now is really good.
“The other stuff? A putter is a putter, I have switched them throughout a season. Wedges are something you have to get a bit used to but for me it is just a matter of not going into 2017 confused. I don’t want that. I just want to get what I don’t like out of the way, have sets of things I like and go from there.
“Basically my plan for the week in December is more to eliminate the stuff that I don’t like. There is actually no reason for me to change at the minute. I am happy with everything in my bag, so it is just a case of looking at stuff and maybe saying: ‘This set of irons is better than what I’m using.’ If I don’t find anything that is then I’ll keep what I have. The same applies to the ball, the wedges, the putter. It is really just for me to get a feel for what is out there.”
McIlroy’s relaxed frame of mind is telling. It may serve as notice of what is to come.
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