Rory McIlroy needs to rediscover his motivation, passion, and a clear focus, says Paul McGinley

After Rory McIlroy endured a torrid opening day of the Players Championship, Paul McGinley looks into the possible causes, and solutions, to the issues that have prevented the former world No 1 from contending for more titles…

Nobody, at least on our side of the pond, creates more debate on his performances than Rory McIlroy.

Despite some decent form this year, he has let opportunities slip when in contention to win, and on other occasions gets out of contention early in a tournament before rallying with consecutive low scores to secure a top-five or top-10 finish, much like the Masters last year.

Debate rages on why this is the case, as his unquestionable talent leaves many of his fans frustrated when he doesn’t win or really contend on Sundays more often. Many feel having a friend as caddie is the reason, or that a change of coach to a proven instructor like Pete Cowen or Butch Harmon would be the missing ingredient. They may be right but I’m not so sure.

The big fall-off in Rory’s game over the past year from a performance point of view has been his iron play. This has been a strength in the past, so what has changed and what does he need to do? From experience, the tendency is to over-react and make changes when you feel things are off. I hope he doesn’t do that.

He has had tremendous success with Harry Diamond as caddie and many successful player-caddie relationships are founded in bonded friendships first. Lee Westwood is enjoying great success and playing some of his best golf ever with his fiancee as caddie.

Jack Nicklaus never relied heavily on a caddie. Top professional caddies are not for everyone. Rory is very much his own man and much of his success is down to controlling his own destiny and making his own decisions. The potential conflict a strong-minded caddie might bring could well cause more harm than good.

By his own admission, he hasn’t seen enough of his boyhood coach Michael Bannon due to travel and COVID restrictions. Despite seeking the help of Butch Harmon and Pete Cowen recently, the technical answers are likely to be found in his fundamentals tested and proven in his work with Bannon. The irony of changing coaches in mid-career is that history proves many players have found success by returning or maintaining boyhood coaches rather than finding new ones – again, Nicklaus is a case in point.

Once they are in place, you move to the mental and attitude side and this is where I believe the root of his problem rests. Without clear and passionate focus, reaching the top of any sport, particularly one like golf that is so draining mentally, is near-on possible.

Rory’s performances under pressure are not as assured as they were earlier in his career. The reason, I believe, is that his life has fundamentally changed and his focus is not the same. As Nicklaus, who faced similar challenges, once said: “Life has got in the way”.

This is not a negative, and there is a happiness off the course with McIlroy that is clear. However, this change in priorities and responsibilities necessitates a different perspective, attitude, and strategy. He has recently got married, become a father, and his business interests have grown so substantially that many believe him to be the wealthiest golfer in the game.

He is also about to take over the chairmanship of the PGA Tour’s Player Advisory Council, a very influential and important 16-man ‘elected players union’ if you like, replacing Jordan Spieth in the role.

Focus gets affected with so many issues needing attention. He doesn’t enjoy the freedom of unburdened youth and responsibility anymore. Life has got in the way of maintaining passion and focus, while these life changes have happened in one of the most intrinsically-difficult challenges in the world of any professional golfer.

Let’s not forget what he has achieved. With his win at The Players Championship in 2019, he completed the set of all-bar one important title in the game. Nobody else, bar Tiger, has done that.

Motivation, passion, and a clear focus are the necessary ingredients if he is to return to winning ways. In order to do so, his challenges need recognition, attention, and strategies so that he can return to the adding of titles to what is an incredible golfing resume of what has been a fabulous career to date.

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