By Kyle Porter 7 hrs ago,
BROOKLINE, Mass. — Rory McIlroy has been crusading for the soul of golf for the last several weeks. On Thursday, in the first round of the 122nd U.S. Open, he reminded everyone why his words carry such weight.
McIlroy is a tremendous communicator, full stop. He has taken up the mantle as the foremost spokesperson in the game for what its future looks like 10 or even 50 years from now, and in doing so, he has offered enlightening insight, wise counsel and a path forward for a game whose equilibrium has been thrown off-kilter by the LIV Golf-PGA Tour duel.
There are other great talkers in the game, too, but they don’t shoot 67s across their first 18 holes at The Country Club.
The four-time major winner is in an eight-year drought when it comes to winning big ones, but McIlroy entered the week playing as well as he’s played in years. A near-miss at the Masters in April, a blown first-round lead at the PGA Championship in May and a win last week at the RBC Canadian Open — in which he gained over 20 strokes and held off Tony Finau and Justin Thomas — were perhaps his best-ever lead up to the U.S. Open.
His game right now is tighter than a Tiger Woods mock neck shirt.
On Thursday, McIlroy built toward something nearly perfect with pars at the first six holes and two birdies in his last three on the back nine of the course (he started on No. 10). A ridiculous par save on the tough par-3 2nd hole, plus an impossible one from a bunker on the short par-4 5th kept the momentum going downhill. Rory then birdied No. 7 and No. 8 to drive his scored to 4 under before a frustrating bogey at the last led to a club toss and some words that NBC wouldn’t be able to air even if desired.
McIlroy was uncharacteristically surly for somebody who was tied for the clubhouse lead at the United States Open. It was surely the angriest 67 he’s ever shot.
In addition to the club toss, McIlroy unloaded on a bunker on that 5th hole after chunking one out of the juiciest junk into another bunker a few yards away. After his round, he called out the players in front of his group for being slow and explained why he was so frustrated.
“You’re going to encounter things at a U.S. Open, whether they be lies or stuff like that, that you just don’t really encounter any other week,” said McIlroy of the 5th hole. “It’s hard not to get frustrated because I’m walking up there going like, ‘Just come back into the bunker.’ The thickest rough on the course is around the edges of the bunkers.
“I was sort of cursing the USGA whenever I was going up to the ball. It’s one of those things. It happens here; it doesn’t really happen anywhere else. You just have to accept it. I gave the sand a couple of whacks because I’d already messed it up, so it wasn’t like it was much more work for [caddie] Harry [Diamond], and then I just reset and played a decent bunker shot, and then it was really nice to hole that putt.
“But yeah, you’re going to encounter things this week that you don’t usually come across the other weeks of the year, and you just have to try to accept them as best you can.”
f you’ve followed McIlroy for longer than the last three days, it’s easy to give him the benefit of the doubt for such outbursts. Though he’s not exempt from criticism for club tossing and sand excavation projects, it’s also a bit of a delight to see somebody who at times has seemed as if was sleepwalking at major championships clear-eyes and completely engaged.
When he was asked if he believed it was OK to show competitive anger on the golf course — to remind other people of how much meaning the majors hold — his answer was typically great.
“Yeah, of course,” he said. “Almost to remind yourself sometimes how much it means to you as well.”
He did what we should all be doing — at least for the next three days — by reminding everyone of the historical magnitude of the major championship that’s now underway and could soon be within his grasp. A major championship that, based on the unintended consequences of the dilution of regular season golf, now means more than ever before.
“Not really,” McIlroy said when asked if, as the heart of the sport off the course, he was inspired to make a statement on it.
“It’s been eight years since I won a major, and I just want to get my hands on one again.”