GOLF

US Open 2022: Rory McIlroy may be taking on a sport, but he wants this major for himself

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BROOKLINE, Mass. — Rory McIlroy has been campaigning for the soul of golf for several weeks. On Thursday, in the first round of the 122nd US Open, he reminded everyone why his words carried such weight.

McIlroy is a terrific communicator, period. He took over as the game’s primary spokesperson for what its future will look like 10 or even 50 years from now, and in doing so, he offered enlightening insights, sound advice, and a way forward for a game. whose balance was thrown out of whack by the LIV Golf-PGA Tour duel.

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There are other big talkers in the game, too, but they’re not shooting 67 on their first 18 holes at the Country Club.

The four-time Major winner is in an eight-year drought when it comes to big money, but McIlroy entered the week playing as well as he has played in years. A near miss at the Masters in April, a missed first-round lead at the PGA Championship in May and a victory last week at the RBC Canadian Open – in which he won more than 20 strokes and held off Tony Finau and Justin Thomas – – were perhaps his best lead until the US Open.

His game right now is tighter than a Tiger Woods mock neck shirt.

On Thursday, McIlroy built something near perfect with pars on the first six holes and two birdies in his last three of the last nine on the course (he started No. 10). A ridiculous parry on the difficult par-3 2nd hole, plus an impossible one from a bunker on the short par-4 5th hole kept the momentum going downhill. Rory then birdied No. 7 and No. 8 to take his score to 4 under before a frustrating bogey eventually led to a club throw and some words that NBC couldn’t air even if it wanted to. .

McIlroy was uncharacteristically surly for someone who tied for the clubhouse lead at the US Open. It was probably the most angry 67 he had ever shot.

In addition to the club throw, McIlroy unloaded on a bunker on this 5th hole after cutting a piece of the juiciest junk in another bunker a few yards away. After his turn, he called out the players in front of his group for being slow and explained why he was so frustrated.

“You’re going to encounter things at a US Open, whether it’s lies or things like that, that you won’t really encounter another week,” McIlroy said of the 5th hole. “It’s hard not to be frustrated because I’m walking up there saying, ‘Just get back in the bunker. The thickest rough on the course is around the edges of the bunkers.

“I was kind of cursing the USGA every time I went to prom. It’s one of those things. It happens here; it doesn’t really happen anywhere else. You just have to accept it. I gave the sand a few hard cuz I already messed it up so it wasn’t like it was much more work for [caddie] Harry [Diamond]then I just reset and played a decent bunker shot, and then it was really nice to drill that putt.

“But yeah, you’re going to encounter things this week that you don’t usually encounter other weeks of the year, and you just have to try to accept them as best you can.”

If you’ve been following McIlroy longer than the past three days, it’s easy to give him the benefit of the doubt for such outbursts. While he’s not without criticism for club-throwing and sand-digging projects, it’s also a bit of a treat to see someone who has at times seemed sleepwalker to big leagues clear-eyed and completely engaged.

When asked if he thought it was okay to show competitive anger on the golf course — to remind others of the importance of the majors — his response was generally excellent.

“Yeah sure,” he said. “Almost to remind you sometimes how much it means to you too.”

McIlroy’s four major wins have included opening rounds in which he scored 67 or less, and in those four – 2011 US Open, 2012 PGA Championship, 2014 Open Championship, 2014 PGA Championship – McIlroy either had the lead or was at less than one off the top after Round 1. That’s likely a position he’ll find himself in once Thursday’s round is over.

Taking on the dynamic load of an entire sport surely eroded his emotions in ways he might not even be able to recognize right now. When players, the media, and even executives at the highest levels of the game ask what you think is the best way forward, the taxation is immense.

However, after the round, McIlroy carried over his role as the preeminent statesman of a century-and-a-half-old game.

“I’m just me,” he said. “I live my life. I do what I think is right and try to play the best golf I can. I wasn’t asked to be put here. I wasn’t trying to be in this position. I am just me.”

The problem for McIlroy is that he may be the greatest driver in the history of the sport, and he might even be a better talker. His acting gives gravity to his words, and gravity rules the world.

As the US Open gains a foothold, however, it will be good to put aside discussions of the hubbub and chatter between organizations that are waging an unfair but inevitable war. Even McIlroy, when asked if he wanted to win this tournament as a way to cement his power to turn the tide of his sport even further, instead turned the spotlight from the future to the past and now the present.

He did what we all should do – at least for the next three days – by reminding everyone of the historic scale of the major championship that is underway and could soon be within reach. A major championship that, based on the unintended consequences of regular season golf dilution, means more than ever.

“Not really,” McIlroy said when asked if, as the heart of the sport off the course, he was inspired to make a statement about it.

“It’s been eight years since I won a major, and I just want to do one again.”

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