Over the last week I’ve read comments from Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson with great interest, as both players have, it seems, set themselves some pretty aggressive targets for the 2014 season. McIlroy apparently has his eye on two Major titles for this year’s campaign, while Mickelson is probing for that elusive US Open to complete his personal career Grand Slam, plus Ryder Cup success at Gleneagles to avenge the demons of Medinah.
What you can bet your bottom dollar on is the fact that Woods, Scott, Rose, Stenson, and numerous other high profile players will have set similarly high targets, whether they are telling the world at this stage of the season or not. It won’t come as a surprise to see McIlroy or Mickelson walking around with a grin like a Cheshire cat come the end of 2014, but, golf being the game it is, it also wouldn’t a surprised to see their hopes dashed. The margin of error in this game is so small, one errant shot and it’s all over. And then there’s the chance of an ‘unlikely’ Major winner cropping up – a Todd Hamilton, Ben Curtis or a Shaun Micheel. On their day you could argue anyone in the Top 100 has the game for it, if they can hold their nerve.
Glancing down the World Rankings list, I suspect that there are at least three players that would be setting their sights on two Major titles this year, and at least twenty others that would have legitimate ambitions on one. Well even my limited maths skills are good enough to tell me that four Majors divided by 26 doesn’t go, which leaves an awful lot of disappointed golfers come the end of the year. There are plenty of very talented golfers who never win a Major title and 2014 will be another year that will end in disappointment for the majority again. In reality, if McIlroy or Mickelson won one Major title this year they would see it as a successful season – but why not aim for two? As the author W. Clement Stone famously wrote, “Always aim for the Moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
But I suspect expectations behind the scenes are different to those they tell us in public. The press will probe and, come the end of the season, they’ll ask where it all went wrong but I question how honest the top pros can be with those of us wanting to know their innermost thoughts. For the vast majority of the best players in the world, a couple of top five finishes in Majors, a title somewhere along the line and another wheelbarrow load of cash would be the sign of a very good season. But they can’t announce that as their lily-livered goals for the season can they? Where’s the ambition, the story, the romance in that?
The top professionals survive on self-belief, so it’s little wonder that, however honestly, they come out with some very bold statements about their goals for the year. Admittedly, it sets them up for a mauling by the press at the end of the year if all doesn’t go according to plan – and it can’t go to plan for everyone – but I sympathise as I don’t think they can approach it any other way. And so they are cornered and more fuel gets inevitably thrown on the simmering love-hate relationship they have with the Press. I’m not sure I’d want every decision, comment, action, failure in my life scrutinised. Life’s hard enough as it is!
In fairness, McIlroy and Mickelson are well capable of turning their ambitious goals in to reality. And in Mickelson’s case, his goals are a little harder to hide as we all know that it’s the US Open he craves. For Rory, after such a disappointing 2013 (by his high standards), it’s understandable to hear him come out all guns blazing. Mind games of a different sort. Then again, perhaps people like me just make too much out of it all!
Either way, the private goals for professional golfers are probably the only ones worth knowing, but being private they’ll stay exactly that – away from you, me and the baying press. Whatever they say, I think the best players will be concentrating on their form, not on the titles, as one follows the other. Their short term focus will be on their performances, with targets set over their entire career. If 2014 doesn’t quite work out the way they’d wish, I doubt Mickelson or McIlroy will lose much sleep over their early season hubris.