All that any sportsman can do after failure on an epic scale is sift through the debris and try to go again.
After the tears at the Ryder Cup and two weeks where his anger and introspection at his performance gave way to a clear-thinking plan, Rory McIlroy turned up in Las Vegas and showed once more the most overlooked quality in his considerable repertoire: resilience.
Just as he did on the final day at Whistling Straits, McIlroy defeated Open Champion Collin Morikawa down the stretch on Sunday to lift the CJ Cup and claim a landmark victory on the PGA Tour.
Rory McIlroy defeated Collin Morikawa down the stretch on Sunday to lift the CJ Cup
This was his 20th title on the toughest circuit in the world and one that ought to give even his detractors pause for thought and think about what he has achieved rather than what he hasn’t.
To put that number in perspective, no other European in the last 80 years has come close. Indeed, the only non-American players who have achieved a higher number are Gary Player and Vijay Singh, as McIlroy pulled up alongside the Great White Shark himself, Greg Norman.
Let’s remember also that McIlroy is just 32. At the same age Phil Mickelson, with all his wondrous talent and the considerable advantage of playing in his home country each week, had mustered 21 titles and no majors.
McIlroy admitted in the wake of his poor showing in Wisconsin last month that his first instinct was to throw the clubs in the closet and tell the golfing world: see you in January.
This was his 20th title on the toughest circuit in the world and showed his resilience
‘I didn’t want to play golf again until 2022,’ he confessed on Sunday. ‘I get more emotional thinking about that Ryder Cup even now than winning here. Yeah, there was a lot of reflection the last couple of weeks and I came to the conclusion that this is what I need to do; play golf and simplify it all.
‘Just be me. I think for the past few months I was trying to be someone else to get better, and I sort of realised that being me is enough.’
Whether it will prove enough when the majors come around we will have to wait and see, but it was heartening to see him draw a line in the Nevada sand. In a field boasting 10 of the world’s top 15 players, he did justice to his pre-tournament boast: ‘When I’m playing well, I still feel I’m the best around.’
Now he needs to build on it. Notch a couple more victories at least before we get around to the Masters next April.
To those who believe he can never solve that particular riddle and complete the career Grand Slam, or end his seven-year majors drought in general, let his words to Sportsmail last month on the topic stand as his clarion call leading to Augusta: ‘I do believe that the best sports psychologist in the world is a square clubface at impact.’
The only non-American players who have achieved a higher number are Gary Player and Vijay Singh (above)
I can still remember walking into my first European Tour media tent long ago in my early twenties, knowing no one and frankly terrified at the thought of rubbing shoulders with a gathering of journalists, many of whom were household names.
One man rose instantly from his chair and made his way over to greet me. ‘You must be Dai Davies’s replacement at the Birmingham Post,’ he said. ‘I’m Renton Laidlaw and let me introduce you to everyone. Will you join me and a couple of colleagues for dinner this evening?’
So it began, a journey of nearly 40 years where the most influential golf journalist of all still found the time to keep in touch, just as he did with everyone else.
When I had run-ins with the Tour and the R&A over the years, Renton would be there with encouragement. When I was in hospital with Covid-19 in January, despite his own health troubles far greater than mine, Renton was still there once more, ringing my wife regularly for updates.
When I had run-ins with the Tour, Renton Laidlaw would be there with encouragement
‘I don’t want to disturb him,’ he said on one occasion, when I had left the hospital but was barely able to speak. ‘Renton, if there’s one person he will want to try to talk to, it’s you,’ she replied. She was right about that.
As I’m sure you’re aware, Renton passed away last week, at the age of 82. As all the many splendid tributes have pointed out, he was a titan of broadcasting, a master of newspaper deadlines, and a man who all but kept the Association of Golf Writers together for a decade and more.
Above all that, though, he was the greatest of us in one other regard as well, the most important one of all. He was, quite simply, the nicest, kindest journalist I’ve met in 40 years.