The making of McIlroy
When Rory McIlroy blew a four-shot lead at the Masters in April, those still able to watch the gruesome images thought they could see a pattern amid the mayhem - the lad is too rash, the decision-making too wobbly and he can't putt.
But those who knew McIlroy best saw something different. They witnessed an irrepressible talent learn a bit more about his craft and a 21-year-old, already mature beyond his years, gain more experience of life's creeks and hollows.
And to get a second opinion on the putting, they called in Dave Stockton. The putting maestro met McIlroy a few weeks after his Augusta ordeal and 10 minutes later the young Northern Irishman's problems were over.
Ten minutes. That is all it took for Stockton to fix a slight flaw in McIlroy's hand position, remind him to slow down and give him the confidence to believe every putt is going in. Which is pretty much what happened at the US Open these last few days.
"I didn't do anything!" the American told me on Monday. "He already knew how to putt - I just made a few observations and perhaps gave him some belief to trust his instincts again."
To try and identify where these instincts come from is to try to explain genius as if it is something we can all attain: we can't - but what makes that more palatable is when genius is bestowed on a decent sort who respects the gift they have been given.
McIlroy was barely two when people at his father's club started to notice him. Gerry was a bartender at Holywood Golf Club and Rory would spend all afternoon putting on the carpet and showing off his 40-yard drives outside.
At home, he would putt until dark in the garden and chip balls from the hallway into the washing machine in the kitchen.
By the time Gerry's father asked Holywood's club pro Michael Bannon to take Rory under his wing, the youngster was addicted.
"He loved golf," Bannon told me. "He was always about the place, watching his dad, the other players or videos in the club shop.
"And he was already a player. He could shape the ball in the air, he could hit it high or low, he could play bunker shots - it was obvious he was special. But it wasn't until he was about 15 that we realised just how special.
"He had already won a world under-10's title at Doral (in Florida) but you never know how somebody will develop at that age. But he won two big Irish amateur titles that year (2004) and has never looked back."
The modest Bannon, like Stockton, is quick to downplay his part in the development of golf's next superstar.
Ask him about that free-flowing swing and he says it is all Rory's ("we just grooved it over the years"), ask him about his charge's perceived putting problems and he says it was only a matter of Rory rediscovering his feel for putter, ask him about McIlroy's potential and he waxes lyrical.
"I think we saw him in full flow (at the US Open)," Bannon said. "But it was just a glimpse of what he can do. My theory is that Rory is the complete package, he just needs to be more consistent. His course management is coming on and he never stops trying to improve. I think he's the best golfer in the world."
McIlroy (right) with father Gerry and the US Open trophy - photo: Getty
Having seen what he just did to a USGA course and a world-class field, it is hard to disagree and an example of McIlroy's pursuit of excellence can be seen in his appetite for old-fashioned hard work and new-fangled sports science.
Last autumn, shortly after his contribution to Europe's Ryder Cup win in Wales, McIlroy was troubled by pain in his back. Chubby Chandler, his agent, called in the man who had helped turn Lee Westwood into a fitter, more resilient athlete.
That man was Dr Stephen McGregor, a strength and conditioning expert who is often referred to as Westwood's "fitness coach", which is something of an understatement given his scientific pedigree.
"The thing to remember about golfers is that they cover as much ground in a round as Premier League midfielders do in a match," the Yorkshire-based McGregor said.
"And the strains they put on their spine and lower body are pretty much the worst things you can do - the flexing and huge shifts in force.
"But the science has caught up and we can now analyse exactly what muscles are being activated in a swing and work out how to increase a player's longevity and boost performance."
For McIlroy this meant more work on his "glutes", or buttocks, to those who prefer Anglo-Saxon.
Chandler, who was alerted to McIlroy's precocious ability by one of his first clients Darren Clarke, says this is just an indication of how the hottest property in golf is building solid foundations for a long stay at the top.
"He's going to get wiser," the journeyman pro turned golfing kingmaker explained.
"This is only his third professional win. He's going to win more and get an older head on his shoulders so when he's 25 he'll have everything. There's a lot more to come. I would be amazed if Rory doesn't get to number one within a year (Sunday's win took him to fourth in the rankings).
"From way before he turned pro at 18 it was very obvious he had a special talent and very few weaknesses. You could see he was a good kid from a great family and now he is working that little bit harder than he did as a teen. But even then there was no obvious thing to stop him from getting to where he is now."
The point about McIlroy's family background was one made by Bannon too: the Holywood hero will not be changed by success, which is a testament to his parents, the aforementioned Gerry and his wife Rosie, who worked extra jobs to fund their son's dream.
If McIlroy comes across as a level-headed chap with no airs or graces it is because he is - he is not faking it and the crowds (and fellow pros) love him. This was something that Stockton noticed in the short time he worked with the new US Open champion last month.
"He reminds me of Arnold Palmer," the 1970 and '76 USPGA champion said. "He's humble and really engages with people. He looks people in the eye and is comfortable in his own skin. And he can play like Palmer too."
Chandler likens McIlroy to another charismatic great, Seve Ballesteros, who passed away last month. That was not long after the youngster's chastening experience at the Masters, a tournament the Spaniard won twice. The great man would have been impressed with his successor's resilience.
"We decided it would be a good thing for Rory to get right back on the bike so he went out to Malaysia and played great," said Chandler. "It was important because he travelled with Charl (Schwartzel, the man who profited from his Masters mishap) and it let all the emotion drain away.
"I went to see him after he got back and he told me he really didn't know what all the fuss was about - I remember him saying it's just a golf tournament and I'm only 21. And then he went to Haiti as a Unicef ambassador and that helped put things in even better perspective. All the poverty and destruction really did confirm that it's only a game."
It is easy to believe that when you watch McIlroy play. Golf just looks fun and oh so simple, which is perhaps the greatest trick any magician can perform. I suspect he will perform his next trick at Royal St George's next month.