COMMENTARY | One of my favorite stories about the relationship between a young Tiger Woods and his father, Earl, surrounded a late-season tournament where the 17-year-old Tiger fell behind early, started to sulk, and basically gave up.
According to reports his father watched from behind the ropes disappointed -- and mad. When Tiger finished the tournament runner-up, the elder Woods gave him a stern talking to, telling him that you should never, never quit, as well as giving Tiger one of my favorite golf admonitions that I often tell myself when things are going poorly on the links.
"Golf owes you nothing."
Earl was certainly Tiger's mentor. Perhaps demanding at times, but he was always there for him. Especially when Tiger let himself down, as he had that day he gave up.
One of the reasons the golf world hashes, rehashes, and then hashes some more that the No. 1 player in the world quit and withdrew from a tournament is because it simply doesn't happen that often. Guys walk off but usually because of injury, like knee pain or back issues. The kind of injury that causes your weight to stay on one side and the ball to fly right no matter what adjustments you make. Not teeth issues.
Speculation about what caused Rory McIlroy to walk off while 7-over-par after 8 holes last Friday as the defending Honda champion range from him simply not wanting to miss the cut (which was almost a foregone conclusion) to having some relationship challenges with girlfriend, and tennis star, Caroline Wozniacki (which is really none of our business, by the way).
But what was absolutely fantastic to see after all the dust had settled was the Golden Bear himself took Rory aside a few days later to give him some needed counsel.
And much like the private conversation between Nick Faldo and a defeated and dejected Greg Norman on the green of the 18th hole after the 1996 Masters, I don't want to know what Jack said. No interest at all. I just like the fact that a man who does more by 8 a.m. than I do by 8 p.m. took the time to talk to Rory and didn't care if it looked self-aggrandizing, self-serving or just unnecessary because, clearly, the kid could quit today and live his days out quite nicely on St. Maarten into his dotage.
If I had to speculate I figure Jack told young Rory that as his star rises, so will the pressure. That perhaps he should cut himself some slack and realize that even at the highest level, there will be days, or even weeks, when it simply doesn't come together.
I would think Jack would tell the 23-year-old that those days can be great learning experiences and opportunities to dig deeper and see what kind of charge you can muster, even when it's just a charge to make the cut. In other words, people paid hard-earned money to come out and see the No. 1 player in the world defend his title. Unless an alligator has your golf bag in its jaw, you finish -- cut or no cut.
Heck, maybe he just told him to go grab a pizza, have a beer, and relax for a few days. Any advice from Jack would be advice I would take.
I'm not sure how much mentoring goes on in other sports, but I don't hear of it very often. Great coaching and motivating, sure. But helping out a young competitor by an old, grizzled veteran? I don't see much of it.
And the PGA Tour needs more. Ernie Els recently told the media that he wishes he would have said something to Rory, his playing partner that day, but hesitated and the moment was lost. I think he will next time. In fact, I know he will.
Young golfers, including Rickie Fowler (24), Russel Henley (23), Jason Day (25), and, of course, Rory McIlroy, would probably not have a problem with a little inside advice as their careers take off, they sign lucrative sponsorship deals, and they begin to marry and have families. Money helps ease those transitions, but it's still going to be a tremendous challenge for those young men to stay at the top of their games and make consistently sound decisions.
And it's certainly nice to see some collegiality in sport these days. Nice to see that everyone isn't always looking out just for No 1.
So maybe Rory figured out that golf owes him nothing. Maybe he realized that he should have stuck it out. Maybe he was completely out of sorts and made the best decision for himself at the time, which was to head to the showers.
Either way, he and the legendary Jack Nicklaus now have a different relationship. And Rory will be all the better for it.
Steven Stromberg owns a 4 handicap and is a two-time club champion in Minnesota. He played college golf in the third windiest city in the nation and collects and studies vintage golf equipment and memorabilia. He is also a columnist for the Eden Prairie News, Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
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- Rory McIlroy