The thing about a great is that there is only one of him. One Ben Hogan, one Jack Nicklaus. They change the swing, change the flight of the ball, change the concept of how to play to win, and stamp their own personality on the game. McIlroy is only 22 years old, but he promises to do the same. Over four days in Bethesda as he set a fistful of Open records en route to a 16-under-par 268, McIlroy combined an aura of superiority with an embraceable man-of-the-people air — and that’s a unique and welcome combination. Have we ever seen a player with his combination of youth, craft and approachability? I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a new champion who doesn’t treat the world as his spittoon.
McIlroy sketched out a discernible if young identity in his habitual baby blue shirt and white cotton pants: one of easy, ambling brilliance. Throughout the muffled, humid four days at Congressional, he played with a stalking rhythm, hitting a succession of high, soft irons that sent wedges of turf flying in the air.
“When you’re swinging well and you’re that comfortable, everything just seems quite rhythmical, anyway,” he said, “even the way you walk and just your whole thought process, everything just seems to go quite well.”
There was something palpably low-tension about him; you had to look closely to see the power in the meaty forearms and shoulders beneath his shirt. He wielded his driver so powerfully and accurately that it was obvious why friends on the European Tour nicknamed him BMW, because he is “the ultimate driving machine.”
He distanced himself so completely from the field, he seemed to be in a different tournament. He hit 62 of 72 greens in regulation, the most in a U.S. Open since the statistic has been tracked. His countryman Graeme McDowell left a note on his locker that said, “What golf course are you playing?”
McIlroy had one guy to beat: himself. His ball striking was so pure it made other players — even great ones such as Phil Mickelson — seem like coarse hackers. His play was so recognizably great, yet also indelibly his own, that other former greats couldn’t help marveling over it.
“He never hits a bad shot,” NBC’s Johnny Miller said. “Playing against him, a guy that hits it that perfect and that far every time, it’s almost demoralizing. You look at how he strikes the ball, and you wonder if it made Mickelson want to throw his clubs in the water.” Or better yet, Miller, added, “maybe caddie for him.”