When Rory McIlroy snap hooked his drive on Augusta's 13th hole back in April, I felt sick. If you were watching, you felt sick too. Rory buried his head in his arm, hiding. The errant shot was the final blow in an epic meltdown. Within 30 minutes he'd thrown away what seemed an insurmountable lead. The television cameras, mercifully, stopped showing Rory. Nobody could bear to watch.
After the round he gave one of the most poised interviews I've ever seen. He took the questions. Spoke openly about his feelings. His maturity was phenomenal. 22 years old.
Then the chattering started. Rory would be devastated, they said. Rory would never win the big one. Rory was too nice. Sure he was a tremendous talent capable of winning 'normal' events, but did he have the chutzpah to win the game's most coveted trophies? Most people wondered. Doubted. The pundits reminded us that lesser men had never won again after suffering such a public thrashing. Greg Norman comes to mind.
But Rory wasn't listening. He kept hitting golf shots and believing. When I read his words after last Saturday's round at the US Open, I knew Rory would win:
"I needed to be a little more cocky, a little more arrogant on the golf course, and think a little bit more about myself, which I've tried to incorporate a little bit, just on the golf course,” McIlroy said. “I just try and have a bit of an attitude.”
We all face pressure. Some of us choke. Some win. Who wins and who chokes? The winners win by ruthlessly refusing to believe the negativity. They WILL NOT buy into the opinions others have of them. They DO NOT let other people's self doubt become their own. The only voice they hear is their own, reminding them of the good stuff. Always the good stuff.
Once the fury of a setback has subsided, the winners call their coaches and go back to work. They get honest about what needs improving. They roll up their sleeves and start doing the dirty work.
By all accounts, Rory McIlroy is a hugely likable dude. Well mannered, killer smile, intelligent. He's a nice person. All good. Gimme a nice guy over a schmuck any day. But when we get into the heat of battle, we need to forget about 'nice'. We need to adopt the vicious competitor persona. Let us be utterly mean about not listening to the critics. We must shun the doubters with every fiber of our being. Once we get done, we can go back to 'nice'.
Congratulations Rory McIlroy, 2011 United States Open Champion.