"I would be very surprised" if Rory McIlroy doesn't become one of the game's all-time great players, says Jack Nicklaus.
When Rory McIlroy captured his third major at the Open Championship last week, he earned a lot of comparisons with Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, both of whom also were piling up majors at the age of 25.
So perhaps it's not surprising that Nicklaus sees a little bit of himself when he looks at McIlroy these days. More important, the Golden Bear likes what he sees.
"I certainly don't have any criticism of Rory by any means," Nicklaus said during a wide-ranging news conference on Thursday. "I think his career is progressing very nicely and I think he's going to win a lot of major championships. I love his swagger. I love his demeanor.
"I love the way he sort of has a confident cockiness yet not offensive with it. It's self-confidence, I guess you would call it," he added. "I like that in him, because I like the kid. I've spent a little bit of time with him and I like him very much."
When he was young, Nicklaus admitted, he "played golf courses more with power than I did with finesse," and noted that "Rory has a tendency to do that." And even with his length off the tee – McIlroy ranks among the game's longest drivers – that aggressiveness sometimes gets McIlroy in trouble, just as it did Nicklaus.
McIlroy's boldness has "served him well on several occasions, but probably doesn't serve him well on other occasions and didn't serve me well on some other occasions," Nicklaus noted. "But as you get older, you sort of say, you know, hey, I think I would rather play that from 160 yards than 120 yards out of a foot deep rough. That's maturity and age."
McIlroy requested a meeting with Nicklaus after the Memorial Tournament to talk about both golf and business, and Nicklaus said he "saw a couple of things what I thought could help him" in his swing.
The Bear won't divulge what they discussed, but he did say that when he saw McIlroy on TV at the U.S. Open, he was "doing a couple things that I thought that he was trying to do that I was talking about. And then I saw at the British Open, he looked very much at ease with what we were talking about."
McIlroy "may not even have remembered it or thought about it. So I don't want to take any credit whatsoever," Nicklaus said of the advice he provided. "I think Rory's swing looked great at the British Open, and some of the faults that I've seen in his swing previous that caused him problems, I did not see."
Nicklaus believes that McIlroy has the potential to become one of the greats – perhaps even reaching the heights that he achieved. In fact, Nicklaus said that "I would be very surprised if he doesn't" become one of the game's great players.
"I think a lot of it depends on what Rory's desire and focus and what he wants to accomplish in his life," he explained. "He's a nice young man. He's very talented, and I think that he's the one that has to decide how he wants to focus and how hard he wants to work for what he's going to do."