Rory McIlroy joined the infamous ranks of famous “chokers” in sport yesterday. After dominating the field at Augusta for three rounds, he fired an 80 on Sunday, blowing a 4 shot lead on golf’s most hallowed ground. It was agonizing to watch McIlroy scramble around like some duffer, carding a 7 on the par-4 10th hole. It was excruciating to watch him 4-putt the 12th hole, sending CBS’ cameras scrambling up the course in pursuit of the other golfers now that McIlroy’s implosion put him 5 shots off the lead at the time.
From 4 shots ahead to 5 shots off the lead in 12 holes. What was disturbing to me as a viewer was a sense of empathy with the young Irishman. If you engage in sports long enough, you’ll experience a moment like McIlroy had on Sunday. For me, I can remember one event like it was yesterday. Once, as a pitcher, I took over in a “mop-up” situation with my team leading by 4 runs in the final inning. I walked the first two hitters. After that, my control (the only part of my pitching that was in any way valuable since I couldn’t break a pane of glass) disappeared. It was as if I’d never thrown a baseball before in my life. My coach left me in, hoping I’d regain my rhythm. While I appreciate his confidence in me, 4 walks later and a couple of base hits, the lead and the game was gone. I was disappointed in myself and that I’d let my teammates down. Perhaps the individual nature of golf at least spared McIlroy that indignity.
Sports can be great confidence builders, but also very humbling. Perhaps no event has that propensity like a Sunday in a major championship, particularly at Augusta. McIlroy is still young, and by all accounts, a very talented golfer. Time will tell whether McIlroy becomes Jean Van de Velde or Greg Norman. One of the great lessons of sports is that it’s not how many times one falls, but how many times he gets back up.