Will Rory McIlroy finally complete the career Grand Slam in 2021?

Which is the greatest pressure on a golfer – that a player puts on themselves to succeed, or that which is placed upon them by the weight of history?

If it’s the latter, there’s no wonder that Rory McIlroy has occasionally cut a disconsolate figure as he makes his way around Augusta National for The Masters. Needing to slip into the famous green jacket to complete the career grand slam, the Irishman has always seemed to be one dodgy round away from a genuine stab at the title in this unique slice of Georgia.

A first round of 75 in the winter edition of the event in November meant that McIlroy simply could not win the thing. The fact that he played the remaining 54 holes in -14, the best of anybody on the property, is neither here nor there. On such margins do major bids fail. Mind you, the manner in which he played from Friday onwards enabled the 31-year-old to clinch a sixth top-10 finish at Augusta. It’s hard to think of any player, in any era of the sport, that has played this vaunted stretch of holes better than McIlroy without winning – not that that would be of much consolation, of course.

Amongst Sarazen, Hogan, Player, Nicklaus, and Woods, the career grand slam gang is fine company to be in, but are there psychological demons with each passing year? McIlroy spoke of being overly careful in his first round in 2020, and used words like ‘tentative’ and ‘guidey’ to confirm as much – the prospect of a date with destiny is clearly weighing heavily on his mind.

It won’t be long before Rory and the rest of the great and good of golf are back at Augusta in more familiar springtime conditions. He will, no doubt, be hoping that the faster greens and slick fairways play to his strengths once more. At  10/1 in the Irish sports betting odds for The Masters, the general belief is that the omens are strong for another assault on the green jacket.

Daddy Cool

Fatherhood can put a new perspective on life, of what really matters, while taking the pressure off in a professional capacity. McIlroy became a dad for the first time in August. You wonder if his mental approach to the game will benefit from the fact that he now has somebody else to make proud with his achievements in the sport.

Whether you think the ‘nappy factor’ is a real thing or not, there is something of a trend for new parents to enjoy success out on the course. The writer Keith Elliot first wrote about the phenomenon in his book The Golf Form Book 1996, citing the likes of Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Nick Price, and Larry Mize whose form improved significantly after becoming a father. Jack Nicklaus, meanwhile, won his maiden PGA Tour title – the U.S. Open, no less – just months after his first child was born.

Dr Gregg Steinberg, a vaunted sports psychologist, talks about ‘ego eggs’ – which sounds truly weird, but stick with it. He claims that fatherhood and other ventures outside of golf are crucial to prolonged success. “The idea is that if you put all of your ego eggs in one basket, all you are is a golfer. Then, when you step on a golf course, you feel a lot more pressure.”.

Perhaps the birth of Poppy could be the missing ingredient in Rory’s recipe for success at Augusta, and it certainly can’t hurt. But as we saw in his first round in 2020, there are still clearly some demons for him to overcome in the hunt for the career grand slam – whether he’s a parent or not.