Single-mindedness the key to success?

01:42, May 31 2014
rory mcilroy
STILL CELEBRATING: The wedding's off, but Rory McIlroy found something else to celebrate: winning the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

Is selfish single-mindedness the only way to truly fulfil one's potential?

How's that for a piece of philosophy to go with your cornies? Assuming you're reading this in the morning, which I can no longer assume, in this digital age, is the case.

It's not a question I've been pondering for a long time. In fact, it came to mind only in the hour or so before I sat down to write this yesterday (which means Friday, just to be clear, if you're reading this online) and the responsibility for putting it there belongs to just one man: golfer Rory McIlroy.

Let's be honest, we've all heard his name a few times in the past couple of weeks, haven't we? Specifically with regard to his breakup with fiance and professional tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, which continues to hit the headlines for all sorts of reasons. It came just after they had sent out their wedding invitations, with the 25-year-old Northern Irishman saying the dispatching of those made him realise he wasn't "ready for all that marriage entails".

This is by no means a debate about whether or not McIlroy did the right thing, or in the right way. While it's clearly news, I'd say that the two, now separate, halves of sport's most famous "power couple" of recent times probably deserve some privacy surrounding the precise circumstances of the split. Suffice it to say, it's clear that McIlroy initiated it.

What led me to the question at the top was not just the breakup, though, but what has followed hot on the heels of it.


Literally - a word often incorrectly used, but certainly applicable here - within days of his public statement on the split, McIlroy won one of the biggest tournaments in Europe, that tour's PGA Championship, at Wentworth. And it wasn't a regulation win, either; it required a final round of 66 to give him a one-shot win over Thomas Bjorn, who had started the day seven clear of the man from County Down.

Then, yesterday morning, as I was mulling today's column, I flicked across to Sky's coverage of the Memorial Tournament, on the United States PGA Tour. It was done more out of habit than anything else, but I was stopped in my tracks when I realised McIlroy was six under par, and sharing the lead, after 14 holes.

On top of last weekend's result, I was intrigued.

I didn't realise at the time that he'd just come off a double bogey at the 14th, but I watched as he hit a superb 5-iron approach to the 15th, setting him up for one of two eagles on the back nine.

Suddenly he was out to a two- shot lead and by the end he'd added a shot to that in a nine- under-par 63.

It was certainly food for thought.

In the couple of years since he truly burst into global consciousness, winning the 2011 US Open by eight shots, and, 14 months later, the US PGA Championship by a similar margin, this is the first time he's looked like he did then. Wentworth was his first win in 18 months on either tour.

Of course, there have been all sorts of debates about his so-called "slump", but most have centred on two things: the signing of an endorsement deal with Nike at the start of 2013, and hence a change in clubs, and his two-year relationship with Wozniacki, like him, a former world number 1.

Of course, it's early days yet, and the US Open in a fortnight will tell us just how well he's really travelling, but it certainly seems like McIlroy's focus is sharper.

So back to the question at the top.

Realistically, I think the answer is no, because not all of us have the potential to excel at something as intensely individual as golf.

While following the Memorial I also read an interview with Miami Heat basketball player Chris Bosh - yes, it seems men can multitask where sport's concerned.

Bosh sacrificed being the centre of attention at the under-achieving Toronto Raptors to join Lebron James and Dwyane Wade at the Heat, becoming a cog in a well-oiled Miami machine, which has won two NBA championships in a row and is bidding for a third.

I'd say that's fulfilling his potential, through sacrifice rather than selfishness.

But what about those who do have the potential McIlroy has? Adam Scott, who has just become world number 1 and won last weekend on the US tour, recently got married. Phil Mickelson, and greats like Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, have combined being married with hugely successful golf careers.

The difference might be that none was married to women who were superstars, meaning a conflict in careers. Think Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors and the almost-marriage, or even the shortlived union with Greg Norman when she was retired and his star on the wane.

The only similar example that springs to mind is Steffi Graf possibly the most single-minded tennis player of all time - and Andre Agassi. But Graf had won all her 21 Grand Slam singles titles and was winding down her amazing career when they got together, while Agassi won half his eight career Slams after that time, likely with her input. They weren't being pulled apart by conflicting careers.

It will be interesting to see how both Wozniacki, still to win a Grand Slam title, and McIlroy go from here, though ultimately we'll only be able to speculate as to whether they each won more apart than they might have together.

The Timaru Herald