PINEHURST, N.C. -- Rory McIlroy says he wants to live his life like a normal 25-year old. Only most people don’t have the luxury of being able to turn to Jack Nicklaus for advice.
Last week, McIlroy spent two hours with the Golden Bear at Nicklaus’ office in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., where they talked about golf, business, life and “the whole lot.”
“I got a lot from that,” McIlroy said Wednesday from Pinehurst, where he’s seeking his third career major championship and second U.S. Open title.
One lesson from the 18-time major champion?
“I couldn’t believe he said this,” McIlroy explained. “But he said he managed his game for 90 percent of the majors he won. He said he played good for three or four of them and the other 14 he said, ‘I didn’t play well, I just managed my game better than the rest.’”
McIlroy and Nicklaus first met in 2009 when they crossed paths in the parking lot at the Gardens Mall near Nicklaus' home. The two made fast friends, occasionally see one another at Nicklaus’ Bear’s Club where McIlroy is a member and lately have been talking “more and more,” says the former world No. 1.
The friendship -- or at the very least this latest bit of advice -- could prove fruitful for young McIlroy.
Two weeks ago, he opened with a spectacular 63 at Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village -- only to tumble down the leaderboard with a 78 the following day before finishing in a tie for 15th.
The latter has been a disturbing trend for the Northern Irishman, who leads the PGA TOUR in first-round scoring with a 67.63 average but is an abysmal 192nd and nearly six strokes worse in Round 2 this season. In his last six starts on TOUR, McIlroy has five Friday nine-hole score of at least 40.
Nicklaus also told McIlroy to not be afraid to change something if it’s not working. It seems he has taken that advice to heart, too.
After his much-publicized split from fiancée Caroline Wozniacki, McIlroy has buried his head in his golf. Less than a week after calling off the engagement, he won the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth for his first victory on a major tour in 18 months.
He has also mostly stayed off social media since the break-up and has rediscovered enjoyment in his game.
“I’m really finding my love for the game again,” he said. “It's nice when you get out on the golf course because you've got that five hours of you're just out there with your clubs, with your caddie, trying to shoot the best score possible.
“There's been times this year when my golf has been really good and I've felt like it's been close to the point where I can win major championships again. Golf has sort of been a nice release for me the past few weeks. I just want to try to keep focused on that.”
Who better to turn to than Nicklaus?
Of his 18 career major championships, the 74-year-old won a record-tying four U.S. Opens and finished second another four times.
This week will be just the sixth U.S. Open for McIlroy, who won the tournament in 2011 at Congressional.
“I feel very honored that I'm able to call him up for advice, if I need to,” McIlroy said. “And he's been very generous with his time. Some of the things he said to me, I'm really thinking about going into this week. He was a great U.S. Open player and hopefully some of those little nuggets of wisdom that he passed on to me might help this week.''