What Rory McIlroy may be lacking, according to Jack Nicklaus

Rory McIlroy, Jack Nicklaus

Rory McIlroy and Jack Nicklaus at last year's Open Championship.

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Rory McIlroy has a great golf swing, Jack Nicklaus says. 

And he says he loves McIlroy’s attitude. 

And golf’s all-time major winner also has a thought as to why McIlroy’s golf swing and attitude have taken him only so far. 

Of course, that level is nearly peerless. McIlroy’s resume is unquestionably great — he’s won four major championships himself and has 28 more victories worldwide. But folks will tell you, perhaps unfairly, that there should be more. He’s also not won a major since 2014. And Nicklaus thinks he knows what McIlroy is lacking. 

“He’s got the best rhythm in the game. He uses his body better than anybody else. I love his attitude,” Nicklaus said this week on Nick Faldo’s new podcast, Sir Nick’s Round Table Chats

“But I don’t think Rory — he has tr … keeping his focus for some reason. I don’t know what it is.”

That’s a take. Focus isn’t quantifiable, as, say, a score, but Nicklaus is certainly a qualified speaker. So what is he seeing out of McIlroy?

On the podcast, Nicklaus followed up by saying he believed that McIlroy would win more majors and that led to this exchange: 

“You think?” Faldo said. “I think this has been a good clear-out, but you go to the low, and then he’s climbed his way back, must be super relaxed, and he knows that just somehow — almost going back to you talking about your — your attitude I’m sure when you played was just don’t get — you’re so good; you know when you go to a tournament, you’re better than anybody else. Like just don’t get in your own way. Even you admit you got in your own way at times.” 

“Absolutely,” Nicklaus said on the podcast. “Rory sometimes, I think he just plays golf. And sometimes, you really can’t just play golf.”

Rory McIlroy shot 3-under 69 on Friday at Bay Hill and then spoke to the media.
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Faldo asked what he meant by that.  

“Well, I look at Augusta,” Nicklaus said on the podcast. “Everybody knows Augusta pretty much. There’s about six shots at Augusta that you better pay attention to: your tee shot at 2, your second shot on 11, tee shot at 12, your tee shot at 13, and the second shot at 13, and the tee shot at 15. [Editor’s note: Nicklaus corrected this to the second shot at 15.] …”

“Those six shots,” Nicklaus continued, “if you’ve played those shots smart, play them intelligently and put them in the conservative side of the ledger, the rest of the golf course is not very hard. And so Rory, sometimes, gets caught up in just playing golf and all of a sudden: Where did that eight come from? 

“And he’s too good for that. He’s too good of a player. And maybe he tries to keep himself too relaxed. I was never relaxed. I always wanted to be on point, every shot. I think you did too.”

Would McIlroy agree? A few years back, Faldo notably questioned whether he had a “Plan B” when his play took a turn downward — and McIlroy dismissed it. “I get the position Nick’s put in with commentary where you just have to say something,” he told the Independent. “I’ve learned very quickly out here that you don’t take anything personally and you just move on.”

More recently, McIlroy has become heavily involved in the PGA Tour’s fight against LIV Golf, and on Friday, he also said he “needed a hard reset at the end of last year.”

rory mcilroy putting at the masters
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“There’s been a ton of phone calls, a ton of meetings,” McIlroy continued, “but now that it’s been decided and announced, like hopefully it will quiet down on that front a bit for me.”

On the podcast, Nicklaus said “you have to be on point.” 

“You can’t get relaxed and feel good and sort of enjoy — you can’t enjoy the round,” he said. “You’ve got to play the round, and when you play the round well, that’s your enjoyment.” 

“Agree, 100 percent,” Faldo said. “When these kids say they’re going to go out and have fun tomorrow, how the hell do you have fun playing golf? It’s exactly what you’re saying. Everything’s a challenge and you’ve enjoyed the challenge at the end of the day.” 

“That’s the fun,” Nicklaus said. “And so I love the pressure. Pressure is what you live for. And so, that’s what we did. I love Rory. I think he’s a great guy. He’s right now in the prime of his career. He’s going to win more tournaments, more majors, I don’t think there’s any question about that. And when he wins more, he’s going to win more than just one. But he’s got to be able to not allow that to happen to him.” 

Editor’s note: To listen to the podcast, please click here

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Nick Piastowski

Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor

Nick Piastowski is a Senior Editor at Golf.com and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can reach out to him about any of these topics — his stories, his game or his beers — at nick.piastowski@golf.com.

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