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Jack Nicklaus on Rory McIlroy in majors: 'You can't get relaxed'

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Rory McIlroy is the proud owner of 23 PGA Tour wins and four major championships, and yet, he hasn’t hoisted one of golf’s four biggest trophies since he won the 2014 PGA Championship.

Winning majors certainly isn’t easy, and McIlroy has had a number of close calls over the years. There have been times when the Northern Irishman has started slow or faltered late and there have been times when someone else simply went a little lower.

It’s hard to nail down a specific reason as to why such a generational player is nearing a decade-long drought in the majors, but Jack Nicklaus recently went on Nick Faldo’s new podcast – Sir Nick’s Round Table Chats – and had some thoughts about Rory’s game and what the third-ranked player in the world can do better moving forward.

“Rory sometimes, I think he just plays golf,” Nicklaus said. “And sometimes, you really can’t just play golf.”

Faldo asked the 18-time major champ what he meant.

“Well, I look at Augusta,” Nicklaus continued. “Everybody knows Augusta pretty much. There’s about six shots at Augusta that you better pay attention to: your tee shot at 2, your second shot on 11, tee shot at 12, your tee shot at 13, and the second shot at 13, and the tee shot at 15. [Editor’s note: Nicklaus corrected this to the second shot at 15.] …

“Those six shots, if you’ve played those shots smart, play them intelligently and put them in the conservative side of the ledger, the rest of the golf course is not very hard. And so Rory, sometimes, gets caught up in just playing golf and all of a sudden: Where did that eight come from? 

“And he’s too good for that. He’s too good of a player. And maybe he tries to keep himself too relaxed. I was never relaxed. I always wanted to be on point, every shot. I think you did too.”

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Nicklaus and Faldo proceeded to go back and forth about the line between having fun on the golf course and staying locked in on the challenge every day.

“You can’t get relaxed and feel good and sort of enjoy — you can’t enjoy the round,” Nicklaus said. “You’ve got to play the round, and when you play the round well, that’s your enjoyment.” 

“Agree, 100 percent,” Faldo said. “When these kids say they’re going to go out and have fun tomorrow, how the hell do you have fun playing golf? It’s exactly what you’re saying. Everything’s a challenge and you’ve enjoyed the challenge at the end of the day.” 

“That’s the fun,” Nicklaus said. “And so I love the pressure. Pressure is what you live for. And so, that’s what we did. I love Rory. I think he’s a great guy. He’s right now in the prime of his career. He’s going to win more tournaments, more majors, I don’t think there’s any question about that. And when he wins more, he’s going to win more than just one. But he’s got to be able to not allow that to happen to him.” 

If anyone knows what it takes to close at a major championship, it’s Jack Nicklaus.