Nick Faldo, a six-time major winner turned Golf Channel analyst was prophetic when he warned Rory McIlroy that switching equipment wasn't a wise decision. He said, "You can't mess with that at such a young age." Though 2012 was a banner year for McIlroy, Faldo's warning that McIlroy would suffer seems to be ringing true this year.
He's gone from Player of the Year in 2012 to a withdraw, only three top-tens and missing the cut three times. There's no question that the equipment change has affected his play. McIlroy hasn't made any noise in major championships other than groans from the gallery and a plunking sound as he falls down the leaderboards.
What's hard to comprehend is how switching equipment could have such a big affect on his game. The best golfers in the world should be able to play any club, be it wooden or modern, and still be successful, right? Well, maybe, maybe not.
It's not so much the actual equipment that hinders the switch. It's the brain. McIlroy rose to prominence playing Titliest clubs and the change to Nike has messed with his confidence, not his swing. A few sub-par rounds with Nike and all the sudden McIlroy has to be wondering if the endorsement money is going to offset his winnings and career arc.
With the amount of money Nike reportedly paid McIlroy, I'd venture to say he's not so much worrying about how much money he'll make on the course, but rather how much opportunity he is missing to pad his resume. What we do know is this: McIlroy is the best talent on the Tour and he won't be out of contention forever.
He's currently working with Nike to find the perfect driver and putter, but whether or not he can make that happen this year is up for debate. The switch to Nike is not without growing pains, but McIlroy is young and has time to sort everything out.
Once he does, look out. Those Nike's will get tuned in like his Titliest clubs once were and that's a fact. It's just taking a lot longer than McIlroy would like. His comfort level will determine when his confidence once again matches his will to win.