Maturing McIlroy credits Stockton influence

8/15/2012 11:09:25 AM
Rory McIlroy  (Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy (Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy credited the influence of putting coach Dave Stockton in the wake of his historic triumph at the US PGA Championship last week.

After his record-breaking eight shot victory at Kiawah Island, the Northern Irishman also spoke with maturity about the development of the mental side of his game and his responsibilities off the course.

And it is Stockton, himself honoured with the PGA of America Distinguished Service Award last week in South Carolina, who has been both helping McIlroy with his putting stroke but also to shape his psychological approach in recent times.

It is no moot point to also notice that McIlroy’s two Major successes have come at venues where Stockton himself excelled during a fruitful playing career of his own.

The now-70 year old guided the American Ryder Cup team to victory at Kiawah Island in 1991 and also won his second of two US PGA Championships at Congressional Country Club in 1976.

“Anywhere Dave’s done well, I seem to do well,” McIlroy said. “Anywhere he’s had success, I’ve had success, too, which is pretty cool.”

Before McIlroy claimed his second Major title on the Ocean Course last week, he of course won the US Open last year at Congressional, in similarly stunning fashion.

“You know, we had a chat last week in Akron,” McIlroy said. “He just said to me, `Just go out and play with a smile on your face. Enjoy it. This is what you've always wanted to do since you were a little boy. There's no point in getting frustrated out there or getting upset. Just go out and enjoy it.’

“That's the attitude that I had for the last couple weeks, and it definitely helped.”

McIlroy also took some pleasure in winning so emphatically so soon after some had questioned him following four cuts in five starts earlier in the year.

"A few people in this room were probably pressing panic buttons for no reason," he said. "I don't think I could have answered it in any better way – and yeah, to be honest, it did motivate me.

"I did want to go out there and prove a few people wrong so that's what I did. It took me all of four weeks to get my game back in shape and get out of my mini slump – and this is the result.”

But despite having some additional motivation thanks to the misplaced criticism in recent months, this is a maturing McIlroy, one who – as well as continuing to fill an exponentially expanding trophy cabinet – seems more aware of his wider role as a sporting icon.

“It’s a nice position to be in,” McIlroy reflected. “I realise that every time my face is on TV or I'm playing in a tournament that I am a role model for a lot of people and a lot of kids do look up to me. 

“I try to do my best in that regard and put myself across as honestly and as modestly as possible, as well.

“Some can view it as a big responsibility but I think if you just go about your life and live it normally and live it the way you always would, I think everything's okay.  I prefer to think of it as a huge honour to be put in that position to have an effect on so many people's lives, it’s a nice feeling.”

Still just only 23 years old, McIlroy – who became the fifth youngest multiple Major winner in the history of golf last week in South Carolina – has an increasingly wise head on yet young shoulders.

This is a calmer, more considered McIlroy, a player that has grown fathoms since letting the moment get the better of him on a sweltering afternoon at Augusta in April 2011.

Having let Stockton help him develop the mental side of his game, this is a McIlroy more in control of himself on the golf course, and it was only after the final putt dropped on Sunday at Kiawah Island that the Ulsterman allowed himself an outpouring of emotion.

Just short of the clubhouse, the US PGA Champion halted his progress to share a tearful embrace with Gerry McIlroy, the proudest man in all of America that day, a father who has overseen his son’s passage from boy to man.