Sign up for our daily newsletter

Latest news, reviews, analysis and opinion, plus unmissable deals for bunkered subscriptions, events, and our commercial partners.

Cologne and Pinehurst have precious little in common apart from an appetite for developing on a highly ambitious scale.  

The German city’s spectacular medieval cathedral, for example, was the world’s tallest building between 1880 and 1890. A smidge under 160 metres from top to bottom, it remains the biggest cathedral on the planet.

Pinehurst, meantime, held the record for the world’s largest golf resort until it was overtaken by Mission Hills Golf Club in China. Eighteen of its 189 holes were catapulted into the spotlight last week when it staged the US Open.

On Sunday night, I was physically in the former but mentally and emotionally in the latter.

Whilst the rest of Gaffel Am Dom watched England labour to an opening Euro 2024 victory over Serbia on the big screen in the brauhaus, my eyes were on my iPhone, as I tried to keep abreast of developments from the final round of the third men’s major of the year.

With my phone’s battery draining fast and the WiFi in the pub infuriatingly Scheiße, my best mate Michael and I decided to take on the mother of all impossible missions: find a bar in the centre of Germany’s fourth most populous city willing to show the golf in the middle of one of the world’s biggest football tournaments.

We thought we were in luck when Google Maps alerted us to an Irish boozer less than half a mile away. Alas, Barney Vallely’s was shut. No matter, The Corkonian was just around the corner. Also shut. By this point, we were in the Alter Markt, a pedestrianised area full of bars, cafés and half-cut football fans.

Suddenly, Michael spotted it. A tiny Sky Sports sign hanging outside a bar on the river side of the square. I barrelled through the door of Kulisse and swivelled round to see two big screen televisions hanging above the door, both of them tuned in to North Carolina.


We watched most of the back nine just the same way you did: with a combination of bitten nails, nervous excitement, shock and wonder.

It was utterly captivating.

Regular listeners of The bunkered Podcast will be well aware I’m a huge admirer of Rory McIlroy. Always have been. Bryce Ritchie calls me a “fan boy” and with some justification. I’ve followed his career from the start. Outside of Tiger Woods, there’s no golfer I’ve written more about. It’s not always easy being in his corner. It’s never dull, often thrilling, but yes, seldom easy.

To paraphrase the man himself, Sunday was a tough day. Without wishing to detract from Bryson DeChambeau, watching McIlroy miss those putts at 16 and 18 was gut-wrenching. Shocking, even. In fact, let’s just call it what it was: a choke.

Taking off without shaking DeChambeau’s hand? Borderline inexcusable. Compare and contrast with the grace shown by DeChambeau towards Xander Schauffele at the PGA Championship a month prior. A cadre of social media schmucks dismissed Bryson’s courtesy as insincere. Whether it was or wasn’t, it was a damn sight more than McIlroy was capable of.

So yes, a disappointing night that prompted a predictable cascade of hyperbolic hot takes. I’ve tried, as best I can, to distill them into four recurring riffs.

Riff #1 – “He’ll never win another major!

Riff #2 – “He has always been a choker!”

Riff #3 – “He can’t putt to save himself!”

And of course, the old chestnut, Riff #4 – “He needs a proper caddie!”

One Twitter twit almost made me choke on my Kölsch as he called for the immediate dismissal of McIlroy’s “useless” bagman Harry Diamond, whilst advocating for people to #BeKind on his bio. The cognitive dissonance was a thing to behold.

In a much more general sense, perspective seemed to be in short supply. Granted, social media isn’t the best place to go looking for such things but even by its low standards the reaction to McIlroy’s latest major near miss felt inordinately hysterical.

So, back to the riffs.

Yes, he will win another major. I’m convinced of it, and perhaps as soon as next month. His record in the game’s marquee events is at odds with the doom and gloom enslaving him this week. He has eight top-10 finishes in his last 11 starts, five top-fives and three runner-ups amongst them. I’d be a lot less confident if this had been his first top-10 in several years and he had blown a rare opportunity. But it wasn’t and he didn’t. McIlroy routinely puts himself in contention to win the hardest events to win. The law of averages – an imprecise science but better than complete guesswork – suggests that the more he can do so, he will eventually win.

He hasn’t “always been a choker”. McIlroy is, historically, an impressive front-runner, which is what makes his collapse on Sunday so hard to explain. It’s top-level sport. It happens. But to suggest it happens to McIlroy “all the time”, as many have, is demonstrably false and betrays intellectual dishonesty.

He can putt. Maybe not as well as some others on tour – as his current Strokes Gained: Putting position of 37th corroborates – but this notion that he is a terrible putter and aLwAyS hAs BeEn is nonsense. The transformation in his stroke since his dismal 2019/20 season, where he ranked 122nd in SG: Putting, has been objectively incredible. Exhibit A: until he walked on to the 16th green on Sunday night, he had made 496 out of 496 putts inside three feet this year. He just chose the most excruciating, inexplicable time to snap that streak.

He already has a proper caddie. And a bloody good one. Full disclosure, I like Harry Diamond. He has endured sustained criticism from armchair caddies – many of whom couldn’t read a menu, never mind a yardage book – and not once has he bitten back. I know for a fact the huge body of work he puts in every week to ensure he is armed with all the information he and McIlroy need. He is diligent, loyal and extremely well respected by his peers. People who should know better mistake his quiet disposition for indifference.

If he and Rory split tonight, Diamond would wake up tomorrow to a lot of job offers. But most people are either incapable of seeing that or choose not to.

They see “Rory’s pal”, not “a qualified caddie” (as if a Bachelor of Arts in looping exists). They ignore the fact that it’s not like McIlroy and JP Fitzgerald – the type of grizzled, wizened veteran they think he’d be better off with – won every tournament they ever entered. And they completely disregard the fact that Diamond could be the loudest extrovert imaginable but it wouldn’t matter a damn if McIlroy didn’t listen.

Should he have gone with 3-wood off the tee on 18 on Sunday, as most port-mortems have suggested? Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but do you know what’s better? A gameplan. And the final hole of a major championship, when you’re still very much in with a chance of victory, is a terrible time to deviate from it. McIlroy and Diamond presumably had a plan. McIlroy just didn’t quite execute it as he should have.

I said on the podcast last week I thought McIlroy might struggle at Pinehurst because he needed every part of his game to be firing. With all the off-course drama he has endured of late, I wasn’t sure if he was capable of focusing to the extent required by a test like the US Open. I was wrong. His cylinders fired on 99%. Most weeks, that’s good enough. But not at a major championship and this one in particular.

Fine margins, basically.

Which is why now is not the time for wholesale change, knee-jerk reactions, or submission to panic. It’s time for doing exactly what he’s doing: quiet reflection in private, and concocting a plan to triumph at Troon in a few weeks’ time.

They have a saying for this in Cologne actually. “Aus Schaden wird man klug”.

We have a similar expression over here.

Failure makes you stronger.

Make no mistake. Rory McIlroy will be just fine.

Michael McEwan is the 2023 PPA Scotland ‘Columnist of the Year’ and ‘Writer of the Year’

author headshot

Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

More Reads

Image Turnberry green

The bunkered Golf Course Guide - Scotland

Now, with bunkered, you can discover the golf courses Scotland has to offer. Trust us, you will not be disappointed.

Find Courses