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McIlroy not in Nicklaus or Tiger Class Yet

Jul 21, 2014 -- 3:45pm

Let’s not anoint Rory McIlroy as the next Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods quite yet.

The world is full of people with great talent in all walks of life, and even more with potentially great talent. The difference between the all-time greats and the rest is whatever it is that drives men and women to succeed after they’ve acquired fame and unimagined wealth.

McIlroy had established his great talent even before winning the British Open. He had climbed to the top of the mountain and then did what most people who reach the peak do: He slipped back down into the world of the very-good-but-not-great crowd.

Will he stay on top this time? Did he learn from his previous fall? Is he content with his fame and wealth?

The truly all-time greats in sports – such people as Nicklaus, Hank Aaron and Michael Jordan – never tired of winning until their bodies betrayed them or their minds went elsewhere.

It’s too early to put McIlroy in that class.

It is a cliché to explain an athlete’s greatness by saying he or she has “it” but regardless of how trite the expression is it also happens to be true. And for me there I no mystery what “it” is.

Simply, it is the continued drive for winning that produces the greatest of the great; it’s not being satisfied with victories already won, money already made and fame already acquired.

It drove Nicklaus to win a Masters at age 46. It kept Tiger going until his body broke down. It pushed Jordan to keep grinding after he was already declared the best of all-time.

It spurred Aaron to work like a rookie during the offseason long after his hall-of-fame status was secure. It kept Pete Rose hustling until the day he retired in his mid-40s.

The great Walter Peyton ran up mountains dragging a giant truck tire in April “after” he became the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. It is what keeps Peyton Manning and Tom Brady working on improving at their craft even now.

By contrast, I’ll share with you a story about the late Jim “Catfish” Hunter, the first baseball player to receive a mega signing bonus. I asked him a year after the Yankees gave him $1½ million (indeed, a mega amount at the time) how the money had changed him.

“Now when I wake up early on a January morning to run and see it’s rainy and cold,” he answered, “I tend to roll back over and say, ‘What the hell? I’ll run tomorrow.’ “

Will Rory start “rolling back over” or will he get out of bed and go hit balls? 

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