Why Jack Nicklaus believes Rory McIlroy hasn’t won a major in almost 10 years

Jack Nicklaus, Rory McIlroy

Jack Nicklaus and Rory McIlroy at the 2022 Open Championship.

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Jack Nicklaus says he’s a Rory McIlroy fan. 

He says McIlroy’s a good guy. He says he’s a wonderful player. 

And he has a thought as to why McIlroy hasn’t won a major championship in almost 10 years.

Nicklaus was talking on Thursday on Golf Channel during the network’s coverage of the Memorial Tournament, the tournament the 18-time major winner hosts. McIlroy had just finished his first round.

In August of 2014, he had just finished major win No. 4, at the PGA Championship at Valhalla. He was 25. Folks were making predictions. Including Nicklaus. On the Golf Channel broadcast on Thursday, announcer Rich Lerner reminded him that he had once thought McIlroy would win up to 15 majors. 

But since 2014? Here’s a look:

— 2015: Masters (fourth), U.S. Open (tie for ninth), Open Championship (did not play due to an ankle injury), PGA Championship (17th) 

— 2016: Masters (tie for 10th), U.S. Open (missed cut), Open Championship (tie for fifth), PGA Championship (missed cut) 

— 2017: Masters (tie for seventh), U.S. Open (missed cut), Open Championship (tie for fourth), PGA Championship (tie for 22nd) 

— 2018: Masters (tie for fifth), U.S. Open (missed cut), Open Championship (tie for second), PGA Championship (tie for 50th) 

— 2019: Masters (tie for 21st), PGA Championship (tie for eighth), U.S. Open (tie for ninth), Open Championship (missed cut) 

— 2020: PGA Championship (tie for 33rd), U.S. Open (tie for eighth), Masters (tie for fifth) (The Open Championship was not played.) 

— 2021: Masters (missed cut), PGA Championship (tie for 49th), U.S. Open (tie for seventh), Open Championship (tie for 46th) 

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— 2022: Masters (second), PGA Championship (eighth), U.S. Open (tie for fifth), Open Championship (third) 

— 2023: Masters (missed cut), PGA Championship (tie for seventh), U.S. Open (second), Open Championship (tie for sixth) 

— 2024: Masters (tie for 22nd). PGA Championship (tie for 12th) 

There were high finishes. There were close calls. He’s also won 17 PGA Tour events since the 2014 PGA win. Which makes the major drought at least somewhat confusing. You’d think someone with McIlroy’s skill set would’ve cracked through. 

But he hasn’t, and Nicklaus said on Golf Channel that he thinks it’s mental. For clarity, here is the complete back and forth between him and Lerner.    

Said Lerner: “Jack, I remember you mentioned this earlier, when he won the PGA Championship at Valhalla 10 years ago, you said at that point you thought he could win up to 15 majors. That was the last one.” 

Said Nicklaus: “Well, it’s been a while for him, but I’m a big Rory fan. I’ve been a big Rory fan for a long time. He’s a good guy, and he’s a wonderful player, he’s got a great golf swing, plays a lot of great shots, and I don’t know where he loses it at times. But, you know, he seems to not be able to focus all the way around.” 

Said analyst Frank Nobilo: “I think you’re right, Jack. There’s like two Rorys today. His bad, even he would admit to you, is terrible. But his good is like, it’s better than anybody else.” 

Said Nicklaus: “Better than anybody else.”

Notably, McIlroy has two more major starts this year, with the next coming in four days at the U.S. Open. 

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On the Golf Channel broadcast, Nicklaus was also asked about Scottie Scheffler, this year’s Masters winner and the world No. 1. He talked of his calmness. He talked of his ability to avoid mistakes. Below is the complete exchange.

Said Lerner: “Better than anybody else, that’s clearly Scottie Scheffler. What are your impressions of Scheffler?”

Said Nicklaus: “Well, I think Scheffler is fantastic. I think he’s brought a new life into the game. He obviously can play fantastic. He comes in week after week after week playing fantastic. That’s just unbelievable. Nobody’s done this in a long time.” 

Said Lerner: “I thought that one of the traits he shared with you, talking about Scheffler, is that he’s sensible. I just thought that was …” 

Said Nicklaus: “I think Scheffler’s very calm about what he does. Look at Scottie play. He doesn’t look like he’s doing anything sensational.” 

Said Nobilo: “He plays more the way you used to play. I mean, it’s …”

Said Nicklaus: “I don’t know how I used to play, but he’s playing pretty well. But anyway, he doesn’t make dumb mistakes.”

Nicklaus also had a thought on Justin Thomas, a 15-time Tour winner who’s gone without a victory since winning the PGA Championship in 2022. 

“I mean, you look at JT’s scorecard there,” Nicklaus said on Golf Channel, “he’s got four, five bogeys on that scorecard and still shot one-under par. That to me is making mistakes you shouldn’t make. And he is a good player. He’s a terrific player. A great kid. I love JT. It’s just he’s been struggling lately. 

“And usually when you go back and look at it, it’s because you probably just don’t have enough discipline at the right time to say, OK, I don’t want to play that shot.” 

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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