By Ryan David, GolfWRX Contributor

Rory McIlroy isn’t making it easy to be a fan lately. A missed cut in Dubai and a Round-1 loss at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship stirred many observers into voicing concern for his game. His withdraw from the Honda Classic midway through the second round after a miserable start made will make things even worse.

It’s obvious that McIlroy’s has become cluttered in 2013. Swirling in his head is the pressure to perform, keep his No. 1 ranking, play nice with the media and do right by his new equipment sponsor, Nike, who will dump generational wealth into his bank account in the coming years. It should come as no surprise that his game, the physical manfiestation of his mental state, has suffered.

As much as his new clubs are talked about, they’re not the culprit of his struggles. Yes, his entire bag changed, and it may have not been in McIlroy’s best interests to make an equipment change if he hoped to carry over all the momentum he built for himself in 2012. But McIlroy’s real problems are his swing mechanics.

He’s admitted that he’s “under plane” and has said that he’s been working on his swing during rounds — not a place golfers want to be mentally when fractions of an inch can mean the difference between making the cut and packing their bags. The bottom line is that Rory left Nike’s R&D facility, The Oven, with clubs very similar to his Titleists, but with a swing that was flawed.

The Nike deal itself was enough to layer unreasonable pressure to perform. It instantly made the 23-year-old one of the highest paid athletes in professional sports. Along with the money, the timing of the deal dictated that Rory spend his normal vacation time getting acquainted with his new sponsor and their product.

Rory has also had to deal with a new level of celebrity in his personal life. With a high-profile significant other, Rory has been subject to the same kind of media coverage akin to TMZ.  I personally remember my Twitter feed full of marriage speculation that Rory actually responded to. Actual journalists were kicking the question about whether or not he was ready to marry back and forth. A slow news day, perhaps, but also an indicator of the scrutiny placed on an athlete suddenly thrust into the mainstream limelight.

Nike is also a much different animal in terms of media responsibilities and requirements. Before the season even kicked off, he had already starred in a feature spot TV spot. In his understanding that he is under a new, more powerful media microscope, Rory seems to be struggling with the pressure. He appears physically and mentally exhausted on the course and in the interview room.

Now, think back to his play last year. For the most part, you remember the absolute ease in which he won the PGA Championship and his top-notch play in August and September. For a minute, though, think about May and June. He missed the cut at the The Players, The Memorial and the U.S. Open. He finally clicked when he found his swing and reportedly “stopped thinking about it.” Are we seeing shades of May 2012 Rory? Perhaps. A reboot of his mental state will undoubtedly reboot his swing and most certainly lead to the McIlroy that holds trophies on Sundays.

Obviously, something was bothering him mentally and physically when he withdrew on Friday. He certainly could have handled it better, but a deeper look into his recent activity reveals some of the burnout associated with being a high-paid, high-pressure athlete at the top of the game. It’s easy to judge him harshly and not to sympathize, and many analysts have. Me? I’m not jumping on that train, nor am I counting him (or his clubs) out just yet.

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  1. Everyone has their take on Rory. He allowed himself to be overwhelmed. His handlers and Nike get to share some of the responsibility. He’s distracted and still needs some guidance off the course. Part of the problem is that he met a girl he really likes and never has to work another day in his life and can live like royalty.
    Getting used to a club change can make some difference also but I think he’s wiped out and wanting to relax a bit. Most of us in our 20’s wouldn’t have been much different. There’s been a few guys on tour who have won and ended up partying in Vegas and we haven’t seen them atop a leaderboard since.
    There’s no comparison to Tiger. Tiger was driven and had a father that helped keep his focus and on the path..It took him years and REALLY screwing up to lose HIS focus. He’s gotten it back it appears. I hope Rory does also. Nice kid. Great talent. But with that swing, he needs to be a machine on the range. Time will tell

  2. I gotta say that I’m disappointed in Rory. Quitting and then trying to sell us with the lame excuse of his wisdom tooth….c’mon. At 23 we’ve all made mistakes but it’s not like he didn’t know what was going to result from his abrupt exit.. He’s been playing golf for how long? He had to know how that would be perceived. Now add the big contract, the celebrity GF, all the perks of fame n fortune…he’s gotta know he’s gonna catch major scrutiny from quitting. Rory, just stay humble, learn from this, know your every move is under a microscope, and adjust your actions accordingly.

  3. Quitting is quitting whether it a PGA Tour event or an 8 year playing junior golf. It’s simply unacceptable. I was a huge Rory fan up until Friday and I simply can back a person who, like it or not, is a role model to my two sons. When they see Rory quit during a bad round, they won’t be far to follow suit. Sorry Rory, but actions have consequences and hopefully I am not one father trying to teach this my children.

  4. Yeah, have to call bs here in a big way. If the athlete in question was a certain Mr woods, the media would be telling him to take a seat next to nick faldo in the commentary box. Rory wants the cash and the notoriety, he should learn to wear the heat that comes with it. Maybe the pressure that came with the money from nike is the issue and not the clubs.

  5. It’s not about celebrity, or the pressure that comes with it — it’s about sticking with the thing that has brought you fame and wealth. Rory has been jetsetting around with his new tennis-star girlfriend and ignoring his game, and both have fallen from the pinnacle of their respective sports.

    The switch to Nike came at a bad time – because of the current lack of attention to his game, he is in a worse-than-usual position to be changing equipment.

    The kid needs to keep his head in the game, work on getting used to the new gear — and give the jetsetting around with the Wozniacki chick a rest…

  6. Simple – if rory wants to be given a break, then stick with Titleist and turn down Nike and might even have gained some respect. Once you accept the big sponsorships the scrutiny comes with the territory.

    He wasn’t forced to switch to Nike – his old sponsors would have loves to keep him.

    His lack of practice and preparation is due to his own fault. Why dshould he be given a break?

    I’m a senior manager at my company, if I or my team makes a mistake you think my clients going to cut me some slack?

    Rory might be a nice kid but he is I’ll advised and poorly managed, letting

    • If you have to be perfect for your clients then you don’t have much of a relationship with them. No person, company or sport’s figure is perfect. It’s easy to judge from the peanut gallery.

  7. Sorry but I cannot agree. If you are that mentally screwed up… plain and simple don’t enter or withdraw before play starts. Once you start ou have to tough it out. Most of us should be so lucky to be able to experience how mentally tough it is to have a freaking silver spoon in our mouths and have to suffer the pressure or fame and fortune. If you are looking for folks who deserver a break.. there are plenty of places more deserving to look, perhaps if Rory did so it would fix his perspective on life and golf.

  8. So he was having a bad day at work and decided to play hooky, so what. Everyone gets a mulligan now and then, even a kid who got lots of money. I suppose the perfect people who post here can’t understand that. Get well Rory, can’t wait ’til your back in top form.
    I made wayyyy bigger mistakes when I was 23 and was condemned by certain heartless superior beings. All of them have eaten crow.

    • Dude are you serious? The difference between you and I playing hookey and mcilroy is one, he’s on 20 mill a year not to and two, as a marquee signing to the Nike name he represents the brand. That is a lot of pressure but if you can’t hack it, don’t make the deal. All the talent in the world can’t help if your ticker isn’t in it and if he’s walking off mid round he’s not in the right place mentally. And if that’s the case, perhaps the pressure (sponsors and self imposed) is too much.

  9. I’m not jumping on the Rory haters just yet either Ryan. However, as the world number one there is a certain level of responsibility and expectation that comes with the job.

    If his wisdom teeth weren’t right before the event he shouldn’t have played and risked walking off half way through. I guess he felt obligated but in hindsight was probably the wrong decision.

    I would have have liked to see Rory tough out the round, sign his scorecard and see how he felt in the next day.

  10. A break? Are you kidding? This is supposed to be a professional. A world ranked #1. A well endorsed player. He had his break at the Dubai and another the Accenture match play. There is no excuse for this one. A wisdom tooth? lol come on now.

  11. G’s comments are what is wrong with the world we live in. A discussion on taking the cash over what works is a topic that can be fairly discussed. But, attacking a young 20 something is wrong. Rory walking off was the wrong thing to do but man I’m glad I’m not judged by the choices I made when I was his age. I don’t think it’s fair to attack him just because he is successful. The world we live in would be a far better place if we looked on others the way we would like to be looked at. We all make mistakes we should all remember that. I do think the pressure of the moment is getting to Rory. He’ll be back he just needs to grow up some.

  12. Nice fluff piece. Follow him on Twitter. He isn’t stressed, he is enjoying his life. Trips with gf, famous friends. He is playing badly, will it last, hopefully not, but withdrawing bc a bad round is laughable. If he doesn’t want/deserve extra criticism, give back the tens of millions of dollars he accepted.

  13. Blah. You don’t make the decision to pursue that life and lifestyle without the understanding of what it comes with. It doesn’t mean it’s ok for people to admonish or dig into his life…it’s not ok,..mind your own business…however, as I said…he chose it. Just like every famous athlete, movie star, politician… You wanted it…you got it. Deal with it or disappear, take your pick. Toothache? Good one. I’m going to call in “fired” with a toothache tomorrow… Seeya on the course!

  14. Rory still very young and never been in this situation before trying to please every one including the stupid press and other people who will never understand the true meaning of pressure. His clubs are fine they been made to his spec same grips and shafts as he had in the titleist gear and the same weight added to his putter. Every golfer struggles Rory just needs to sort his head out and get back on planet earth

  15. You should know better than to argue something like this. Don’t you know that once a person (a) make a certain amount of money, (b) become a public figure, or (c) date a public figure, he ceases to be a human being worthy of anyone’s consideration, kindness, decency, or respect?

    As G said, he IS a celebrity. A public figure. A supposed role-model. With trophies. And millions. And a super-star tennis girlfriend. Indeed, not only is he “open for scrutiny”, it is imperative that we as a society give him nothing but scrutiny. It’s only fair, after all.

    Oh well, there’s a positive here. People like G and others give me the opportunity for teaching moments with my son…about the kind of person he doesn’t want to be.

  16. Wha? Ffffffff. No way. We don’t have to give him a break. He IS a celebrity. A public figure. A supposed role-model. With trophies. And millions. And a super-star tennis girlfriend. Open for scrutiny.

    This is the modern world. A Twitter world. We can all have our say.