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The Telegraph

Rory McIlroy interview: 10 years on from changing the game — and that Masters meltdown

There is a saying in Georgia, ”no moolah without the grueller” — translation: “no gain without pain” — but Rory McIlroy believes that not only did he benefit from his Augusta agonies of 2011, but that the game as a whole changed as a result of the fearless attitude of that curly-haired Belfast boy. On the 10th anniversary of those unforgettable scenes — when the 21-year-old front-runner suddenly endured a Masters meltdown and shot a tear-stained 80 — it is an intriguing theory on McIlroy’s behalf, which challenges the widely accepted narrative that this ever-burgeoning generation of boomers were created by the Tiger Woods example. No doubt, McIlroy says, the 15-time major winner inspired this thrilling youth movement, but when it comes to their gung-ho style, he maintains that they are more Rory’s rookies than Tiger’s cubs. “If there’s one thing I started in the game, I think it’s that a lot of guys come out now and are playing very similar to me and how I’ve always played,” he says. “If you think of Tiger through the Noughties, it was a very conservative game plan, wasn’t a lot of drivers. “But then, I came out and I hit driver a bunch, really aggressive off the tee. And I feel like that has carried on. College players are being taught that way and they’re coming out and they’re hitting that miles. It’s funny because I was just doing it naturally, it’s just what I wanted to do, how I got my kicks. “But more and more players started doing it. It was the entire strokes-gained era thing as well. It made everyone realise that being able to do what I can do off the tee is a huge advantage. That wasn’t the case at the turn of the last decade.” The Rory rebuild: Pete Cowen’s to-do list with McIlroy – but will it work? McIlroy and Mark Broadie make an unusual duo in the power revolution. While the former is an individual who left school at 15 to carve out his inexorable path to the elite end of golf, the latter is a business school professor and obsessed recreational golfer. At the same time as McIlroy was trying to write that Masters fairytale that soon turned into a nightmare, before becoming the great US Open redemption epic, Broadie’s “shots gained” metric was being accepted by the PGA Tour as a more accurate analytical tool than those often deceptive traditional “driver accuracy”, “greens hit” and “putts per round” measurements. By looking at it through the prism of relativity — ie “shots gained on the rest of the field” — Broadie swung a titan head through some age-old myths. Chiefly “drive for show, putt for dough”. “It just wasn’t the case,” McIlroy said. “I’m a big believer in stats…and strokes gained is the best stat that has come into our game for the last, well — ever.” Overnight, McIlroy’s god-given talent and care-free philosophy was granted academic legitimacy. Of course, the new breed and their advisors would follow and with the unrelenting, popularisation of TrackMan — the digital technology with which players can review key swing parameters including ball speed, launch angle, spin rate — the young pro was no longer in thrall to experience. Everything he or she wanted to know was right there on the monitor. Instant professionals. Just add branded water. “We have so much more knowledge,” McIlroy said. “I’m not saying back in 2011 players didn’t have any knowledge, but I just think with ‘shots gained’ with TrackMan, and just everything that they’re putting in place in terms of a backroom room team and physios and coaches and mental and their own chefs and all sorts of stuff… well they are seemingly taking it more seriously than ever, even though every top golfer has always taken it seriously. Players all have their own teams around them nowadays and that’s something that wasn’t that normal 10 years ago.” Is McIlroy a victim of his own success, has he been engulfed by the new wave he helped generate? No professional worthy of their own self-belief would ever acknowledge such a thing and McIlroy prefers to peer back through the decade more positively. Starting on that Sunday afternoon of April 10. “Sure, it hurt at the time — you can’t be four clear overnight, still be in contention at the turn, before taking a triple bogey on the 10th and struggling in with an 80, without it hurting,” he says. “And there were parts of it that were low and certainly I felt low as it unravelled. But a real low is what happened the year before at The Masters — I missed the cut. Compare that to getting into contention and leading at the Masters. “I was so close to doing something really great and when the fog clears you have to take that out of it. I’m big on taking the positives and moving on, but I’m also very big on the fact that you have to be a bit of a goldfish in golf. You need to have a very short memory.”

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