Olympic exploits may have reignited Rory McIlroy’s winning mentality

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With so much expectation on Rory McIlroy every time he takes to the course at a major championship, it’s no wonder that the Northern Irishman usually fails to perform to the best of his ability. But in far-away Tokyo, amidst the refreshing novelty of competing for an Olympic medal on behalf of Ireland, McIlroy seemed to find a new energy — a new zest for top-level competition.

There was to be no medal in the end. McIlroy couldn’t quite do enough to secure bronze in the seven-way play-off competition, with Chinese Taipei’s CT Pan claiming the honour in the end. But that is a minor detail in the end for McIlroy, who thoroughly enjoyed his first venture into Olympic competition, having pulled out of the Rio Games five years ago due to concerns over the Zika virus.

“I’ve never tried so hard in my life to finish third,” McIlroy reflected. “It’s not a position I’ve found myself in very often but I gave it my all out there and it wasn’t quite meant to be, but I’m looking forward to having a crack at it again. It’s not just another golf tournament – it’s something much bigger than that. I didn’t realise that until I got here. I feel like golf has its Olympic Games four times a year, but this has a different feeling, it really does. I’ve really enjoyed teaming up with Shane [Lowry] for Ireland. It’s like a throwback to our amateur days.”

Perhaps it’s that escape from the pressure and bureaucracy associated with the four majors which explains why McIlroy found a new lease of life of sorts in Tokyo. Generally, golf’s biggest tournaments represent a struggle for the 32-year-old, and in the last few years it’s been a story of missed cuts and missed opportunities for McIlroy in the majors, despite his status as frequent favourite in the golf betting odds. He has found joy in smaller events though, winning his fair share of PGA titles, as well as the Players’ Championship which he won in 2019, suggesting that it is just the majors where he faces this mental block.

But competing in the Olympics may well give him cause to hit the reset button. There is something so unique about representing your country on the biggest sporting stage that inspires so many sportsmen and sportswomen. Indeed, missing out on that bronze medal may have given McIlroy a boost to up his game and really carve out a legacy as one of the all-time greats.

Four major titles is a CV many golfers would snap up in an instant, yet with McIlroy’s major drought set to hit the eight-year mark as we move into 2022, the pressure on his shoulders to deliver that fifth success will only grow heavier. It’s been clear for a long time that he has suffered with the weight of expectation, and that he feels much more comfortable in smaller events. There is also the fact that, in an age of supremely talented golfers, winning the sport’s biggest prizes is incredibly difficult.

Having tasted the Olympic Games in all their glory, McIlroy has a new prize to aim for. He’ll be desperate to claim a medal at Paris 2024, and this newfound zeal for golf may well inspire him to start a new chapter in his career. McIlroy’s critics speak as if his time at the top of the sport is drawing to a close. He is still young, still fancied in the golf betting tips, and one can’t help but think that there is a wave of success still to come.

Story by Simon Cromie

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