After all the failed attempts, the sports world is trying to replace another all-time great too soon, with too little patience, and too-high expectations. This time, the victim is 22-year-old Rory McIlroy, and the all-time great is Jack Nicklaus.
McIlroy, a Northern Ireland native, won the U.S. Open this past weekend in mind-boggling fashion. In fact, “won” isn’t even the right word. He crushed, demolished, destroyed and embarrassed his competition.
Just to give you an idea of how unbelievable McIlroy’s performance actually was, consider this: The combined scores of the last 10 U.S. Open champions were 14 under par. McIlroy finished at 16 under.
His first major victory came at the same age, 22, that Nicklaus’ first major victory came. Coincidence? The media thinks not.
Before the final round of the Open was complete on Sunday afternoon, NBC already had Nicklaus on the phone. “How many majors could he win?” they asked.
“How good is he really?”
“Could he pass your record?”
All these questions came after the kid played one weekend of perfect golf; and for now, McIlroy will bask in the win.
Yet what the young phenom is about to learn is that he is entering the world of LeBron James, Freddy Adu, Greg Oden, Reggie Bush and even Tiger Woods. It is a world full of impossible expectations, relentless media, immeasurable success and, eventually, ultimate disappointment.
In fact, maybe McIlroy is smarter than I thought. Today, news broke that he will take a three-week break from competition and has pulled himself out of the French Open. He says he is going to spend some time with his family, seemingly to let things cool off, and delay his return until the British Open July 14 through 17.
You see, the media has ripped out the hearts of young superstars before. Go ahead; tell me who Adu plays for right now or what his most recent soccer achievement was. Remember when he was going to be the best player in the world?
Take James as a prime example. When you think of the basketball star, you probably don’t think all positive things. Yet we’re talking about a former NBA Most Valuable Player.
James was the rookie of the year in 2004 and an NBA All-Star every season since 2005. He’s the youngest player to score 2,000 points in a season. He’s the youngest player to average 30 points a game. He’s the youngest player to be named to the All-NBA First Team. He’s the youngest player to record a triple-double.
Yet at the end of the day, LeBron James isn’t good enough. He’s not living up to expectations. Why? Because he’s not Michael Jordan.
I shouldn’t have to tell you the last person to be put in the same sentence as Jack Nicklaus, but in case you missed it, it was Tiger Woods.
Do you know where the 35-year-old Woods was this weekend during the U.S. Open?
He was watching from home, just like the rest of America.
If I were McIlroy, that would be one thing I wouldn’t forget about the U.S. Open this past weekend. I’m not saying Woods would have changed the competition’s outcome, because he wouldn’t have. Nobody, and I mean nobody, was going to touch McIlroy this weekend.
But I’d remember it because Woods once sat where McIlroy does now. Woods, once upon a time, was the good-looking, nicely dressed and enthusiastic young golfer that McIlroy looked like this past weekend.
So before McIlroy crashes and burns five years from now amongst media prophecy of greatness, let’s appreciate his weekend for what it was.
It was a display of incredible focus. It was a performance that deserves its everlasting spot on the record books. It was a man mastering his craft. It was the display of a beautiful swing to go with an infallible demeanor (for now). It was captivating, mesmerizing, fun to watch and about as impressive as it gets.
So what do you say we let the guy enjoy it?
Check out this article as a follow up: