A little over 60 days ago, I wrote here about young Rory McIlroy’s improbable choke job on Sunday at the Master’s. That day, McIlroy entered the competition with a 4-shot lead only to shoot an 80 en route to a 15th place finish. I concluded that piece by saying, “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.”
It didn’t take Rory much time to get back up. Yesterday, McIlroy capped off a dominating performance by winning the US Open at Congressional in Washington, D.C. It was never in doubt as McIlroy led nearly wire-to-wire. His 8-stroke margin of victory is second only to Tiger Woods’ 15 stroke victory at Pebble Beach in 2000. With this victory, McIlroy not only has solidified his position as golf’s next superstar and likely heir to Tiger’s crown, but more importantly, Rory showed us all how to properly respond to failure: win.
Another celebrated sports star, Lebron James of the Miami Heat, is sitting in McIlroy’s former position right now. While James shot at redemption will have to wait for a year (maybe more if there’s a lockout), Lebron now has a blueprint for how professional athletes successfully pick themselves up after a colossal failure.
As we watched McIlroy this weekend, we could see that he learned from his past. There were a couple of opportunities where he hit errant tee shots that could very easily have repeated his meltdown by following one mistake with encores. This is especially true at the demanding US Open where wayward golf balls are much more likely to lead to bogeys than with the more forgiving rough at Augusta. On one telling par 5, McIlroy found himself in the first cut of rough. Rather than try to make up this mistake in one shot and perhaps risk more trouble, he humbly laid up, was able to hit a solid third shot and two-putted for par.
The first rule of “holes” is to stop digging. That’s the biggest key to success, not just in sports, but in any venture. In the Master’s, McIlroy compounded his errors by making more mistakes under the pressure. Yesterday, McIlroy stopped the negative processes and initiated a painless recovery, allowing him to finally grab his cup of coffee as “a closer.”
Lebron James should invite Rory McIlroy out for a cup of coffee. Perhaps young Rory could teach King James a thing or two about closing.