Right Field: Dedicated determination lifts the talented to pinnacle of greatness and beyond

Many with skill squander their gifts but some apply rare dedication to reach new heights, as Rory McIlroy has shown

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 July, 2014, 9:06pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 July, 2014, 9:06pm

Sporting greatness is fickle and fleeting. Transcendent talent is even more elusive and few things in sport are more frustrating than incomparably skilled athletes who never truly realise their potential. They squander their gifts by yielding to the plethora of temptation and a misguided sense of priorities.

On the rare occasion when those gifts meet dedication and determination a generational athlete is born, and fans are treated to the type of sublime and mythical performances that spawn a lifetime of memories.

Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan are wildly dominant athletes of relatively recent vintage who generated endless tales of greatness that have become the mythical standards in their respective sports.

He built the industry and now a refocused and energised McIlroy seeks to own it

Both were monomaniacal and ruthless in their sense of purpose as well as being dominant and intimidating. There was no questioning their greatness, only the height of it.

For 25-year-old Rory McIlroy, his place in the pantheon of legends is now being openly discussed on the heels of his impressive victory at the Open Championship in Hoylake.

The fact that he has streaks of dominance in an era boasting an enviable excess of supremely talented golfers is even more impressive.

We could well be watching one of the greatest golfers of all time. With his victory at Royal Liverpool, McIlroy becomes only the third golfer yet to win three major championships by the age of 25.

The other two are Woods and Jack Nicklaus, the most dominant golfers in the history of the game. Nicklaus (18 majors) and Tiger (14) are light years ahead of anyone else so to even be in that conversation is rarefied and intoxicating for young Rory.

"We used to say there will never be another Nicklaus, and then along came Tiger," Phil Mickelson said. "But nobody has really asserted themselves week in and week out the way Tiger did for such a long period of time. We'll have great performances, like Rory. But it's very hard to do that the way Tiger did. That's why it was so impressive what he did."

So, yes, there is much work for McIlroy to do in order to achieve legendary status. However, the seeds have certainly been planted and changes in his management company, again, and his personal life seem to have refocused him on being not only the best golfer in the world but one of the greatest of all time.

All the tools are in place; he is the most talented golfer in the game with a hellacious work ethic. "Some of the guys will have heard me say that golf is looking to someone to put their hand up and try, and I said at that time I want to be that person," McIlroy said.

"I want to be the guy that goes on and wins majors, and wins majors regularly, wins tournaments."

However, quite often life gets in the way and McIlroy was no exception. Despite his dedication to his craft at such an early age, his relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki brought McIlroy squarely into the firmament of popular culture.

Young, rich and talented, they became a staple of not only sports news, but the ravenous tabloids as well.

Some questionable behaviour by McIlroy, like missing the cut at the 2012 Hong Kong Open by four-putting the final hole and showing up less than 24 hours later on one of Wozniacki's Twitter pics carelessly lounging poolside in Dubai, while still collecting his US$1 million in appearance fees from Hong Kong, had many questioning his dedication. His form slipped badly going from world number one to missing the cuts in four out of five tournaments.

In May, he abruptly ended their engagement and relationship. The responsibility of having to share your life with another person, and another famous one at that, was a detriment to his game and he announced in no uncertain terms that for now at least golf is his sole relationship.

And if greatness is your primary goal, it's a good choice. However, any future comparison to Tiger will be moot. Tiger built the golf industry putt by putt. His breathtaking dominance and sheer charisma made him the most famous sportsman on the planet playing a game 99 per cent of the world knows virtually nothing about.

It's important to remember as he struggled recently with age, injury and scandal that Tiger is still the most influential and dominant athlete of the past 30 years.

He built the industry and now a refocused and energised McIlroy seeks to own it. It will be interesting to see if and when life gets in his way.