As the predictions from golf’s soothsayers grew ever wilder in the wake of the Northern Irishman’s victory in the US Open last month, the sharpest comment probably came from the American writer who suggested that McIlroy was the first player in history to win 19 majors in one week.
Jack Nicklaus smiles when he hears the line. Between his first major (the 1962 US Open) and his last (the 1986 Masters), Nicklaus so emphatically redefined greatness that few even thought to challenge his achievements until the notion of doing so took root in the mind of Tiger Woods. Nicklaus did not so much raise the bar as lift it into the stratosphere.
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All of which lends a weight of historical significance to the slight tilt of Nicklaus’s head and the lift of his eyebrows as he digests the news that McIlroy’s preparations for the Open Championship this month add up to a whirl of social and media engagements and a three-week sabbatical from competitive golf.
“That’s a long break,” says Nicklaus carefully. “I understand that Rory has had a pretty hectic schedule, with TV and sponsors’ engagements and visiting Wimbledon. The one thing I imagine he hasn’t done much of lately is play golf. If he has a disappointing Open then I’m sure people will say it was too long. We’ll find out soon enough if it has recharged his batteries or drained them.
“I always found that well-timed breaks from golf could be healthy for the mind and the game, but each golfer has to determine what’s best for them. Rory isn’t the first player to build his schedule and strategy around the majors. Ben Hogan did it, Bobby Jones did it, I did it and Tiger Woods has done it.
“He’s already a good player, but I’m convinced he’s going to become a really good player. I like his golf swing and I like his attitude. Does he have the potential to dominate? Yes, if he keeps his head screwed on properly, and he does the things he has to do to improve.”
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