#AskAlan, Vol. 19

With thoughts on the real Rory, Rickie’s renaissance, Rose Zhang, Phil vs. the USGA, the meaning of the Senior Tour,
Bryson’s mental health and more

By Alan Shipuck

Do you believe Rory is Rory again? @ESPN_SwingCoach

One problem with this formulation: Who is Rory? Is he the cold-blooded killer who blew away the field at major championships and out-alpha’d Phil at Valhalla? Is he the philosopher king who just wants to read self-help books and downplay the importance of winning? The player who was overwhelmed by the moment at Royal Portrush in 2019 and at Whistling Straits last month? The young maestro who joins Tiger, Jack, Arnie, Lord Byron and Tom Watson as the only players to win 20 tournaments including four majors before turning 33? The guy who shoots 76 seemingly every Masters Thursday or the one who shoots 61 to win at Quail Hollow? Turns out McIlroy is all of these things, which is what makes him so compelling and maddening. McIlroy is a very old 32. He has spent the last few years trying to figure out what he wants out of life and his career. Maybe the clarity that came between the Ryder and CJ Cups will change everything for him. Maybe it’s just another little diversion. I don’t think even Rory has a clue what the future holds for him. I do know this: We’ll all be riveted as he tries to figure it out.

What of Rory’s quote of “If I play my best I’m the best in the world.” Surely a sustained run of victories and big ones is needed to justify it?  @pth1974

Objectively, yes. Jon Rahm is the best player in the world right now. When all of the top talents are at their peak, Dustin Johnson’s best is the best. Rory certainly needs to get it done at another major championship before he reenters the conversation. But I have zero confidence in his declaration. That’s exactly the kind of swagger Rory needs to reclaim if he is going to be a dominant force again. 

Finish this sentence: The Champions Tour broadcast exists because __________ .  I’ll hang up and listen. @robmillertime

Otherwise we wouldn’t know that if your erection lasts for more than four hours you should contact a doctor immediately.

You need to tiebreak an HOF induction: 2 players, each 1 U.S. Open , each brief stint as No. 1, each never really took off into the public awareness sphere. One has a Players Championship, one has an Evian championship — which one gets your nod from on high? #AskAlan @tallboy199

Neither? It’s supposed to be the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Very Good. The impoverished standards of the last decade or two have become a bummer. But the induction ceremony is now a glitzy TV show that demands warm bodies, so every borderline candidate is now guaranteed to get in. I would like the Hall to be more discerning.

What can one say about Rose Zhang that hasn’t already been said?  Three college tourneys, three Ws. I know it’s still early, but would you hazard a comparison? @caia437

Lydia Ko. Zhang (above) has the same silky touch and imagination and gift for scoring. She seems to radiate the same joy and retain the same humility even with her success. That Zhang is having a college experience and expanding her mind and circle of friends at a great university gives me hope that she can avoid the existential crisis that slowed Ko.

Is Phil’s out-spoken-ness against the USGA his last/best way of sticking it to the org? How many times has Mike Whan called him in the last 6 months? #AskAlan @EthanZimman

Phil has been at war with the USGA, off and on, since the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock. That week he played some of the best golf of his life, but his bid to win the elusive Open was stymied by the out-of-control course setup (and, in fairness, Retief Goosen’s steely play). The USGA-inspired renovation of Torrey Pines ruined one of Mickelson’s favorite courses, at least in his mind. He busted his wrist in the absurd Oakmont rough in 2007. He barked at Mike Davis in the middle of the final round at Merion in 2013, not the best use of his mental energy while trying to win the national championship. And of course he perpetuated the ridiculous civil disobedience when there was another setup screwup at Shinnecock in 2018. So, yeah, Mickelson is never going to miss a chance to blast the USGA, especially if it’s taking away one of his favorite toys, the 47.5-inch driver. (Though it’s actually the PGA Tour that would be enacting the local rule, but never mind the nuance.) When Phil’s stridence intersects with his need to be the smartest guy in the room, he’s going to take some extreme positions. Clearly the modern power game is overwhelming golf’s ancient playing fields, and limiting driver length is a no-fuss way to tap the brakes. I don’t see what the big deal is, but unlike Phil, I don’t have a lifetime contract with Callaway.

Did you see anything in Rickie’s play this week that says this can be sustained success, or does it feel like a flash in the pan?@VeryAvgDad

The answer Thursday through Saturday was his smile; he had his old lightness of being. On Sunday, Fowler looked puckered. Totally different visage as the strain began to show. He has been grinding so hard, and under such a big microscope, the Sunday scaries were probably inevitable. But if he can maintain that early-week jauntiness and palpable love of being back in the spotlight for all four rounds, I think another victory is coming.

Do you think that on the strange, pressure-filled, perfectionist and contentious road Bryson has put himself on there is any chance of him having some kind of a breakdown or mental health issues in the near future? Or is he just too stubborn and iron-y for that to happen? @Dunk2604

You can’t overpower mental health issues with big biceps or blinding clubhead speed. I’ve definitely shared your concerns about DeChambeau. Brooks Koepka’s bullying and the related hazing from the galleries certainly took a toll on Bryson this year, and the back-nine meltdown on Sunday at the U.S. Open was metaphysical. Not long after that he was snarling at fans. The Ryder Cup could be a game-changer for DeChambeau. It was the first time all season he truly felt the love from the crowd, and he reciprocated with excellent and wildly entertaining golf. If he can avoid saying anything dumb—admittedly, not his strong suit—perhaps there will be a different feeling in the air, which would certainly help Bryson. But he still has a childlike need for attention and validation, and that reveals something deeper and more complicated. The good news is that mental health has never been more of a priority in professional sports, and DeChambeau will have a lot of support and resources if he needs it.

3 thoughts on “#AskAlan, Vol. 19”

  1. While I hate to admit it, your comment that “I don’t think even Rory has a clue what the future holds for him.” is correct. Hopefully, his recognition that he needs to return to playing by visualization and feel will prove the key to unlocking his full potential…especially come April.

  2. Just put this on your FB page. I’m very impressed…

    Just finished viewing your Irish Trip part 2. Never have I seen the spirit of Ireland and the Golf presented in such a fantastic manner. If you don’t get $5 million from the Irish tourist board, you’re missing the boat. We’ve had our 5th trip planned and delayed and are going next year. You’re film makes me want to plan another trip just to get deeper into the north. Beautifully well done!!!

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