Sport Golf

Saturday 10 December 2016

Rory McIlroy: 'Honestly not a lot of people care. It's not life or death'

McIlroy is motivated and inspired by achievements of American young gun but wants to keep his USPGA title and maintain his world ranking

Published 13/08/2015 | 02:30

After being out of action for just five weeks Rory McIlroy is ahead of schedule in his recovery from his ankle injury
After being out of action for just five weeks Rory McIlroy is ahead of schedule in his recovery from his ankle injury
Rory McIlroy examines his taped-up left ankle at Whistling Straits yesterday on the practice range ahead of his USPGA defence which begins today

Rory McIlroy returns to the Major championship arena refreshed, ready for action, and with a new perspective on golf and life.

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The 26-year-old multi-millionaire, who conducts his career under a massive media scrutiny discovered there's a big world out there beyond the hype and hoopla of the professional golf Tours.

And most of all, he discovered that in the broad context, and beyond his immediate family and friends, very few people were bothered that R. McIlroy Esquire couldn't play golf because of injury.

Once he knew the extent of the damage he had done to his left ankle when playing soccer with friends on July 4, McIlroy did not think he could bear to watch the Open Championship and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational (which he won last year) being played without him in the field.

"I honestly thought it was going to be harder than it was. I thought I was going to miss it more than I did," he said.

"But if anything, having to sit those tournaments out, especially The Open Championship going back to St Andrews, which is probably my favourite venue in the world, it gave me a huge sense of perspective.

"When you're playing week in, week out and you're thinking about winning these tournaments, you get so wrapped up in what you're doing and your own little life and your own little bubble, sometimes you forget there's a bigger, wider world out there.

"No matter whether you win a golf tournament or not, people are going to get up on Monday morning and go to work and do their daily things, and honestly not a lot of people care.

"In the big scheme of things, it's not life or death," he said.

In that sense, he would not subscribe to the views of the late Bill Shankly, who on being asked if soccer was 'life or death', replied: "It's more important than that."

He will, however, continue to play football - "I might take some precautionary measures next time" - and is not put off by the serious ankle rupture he suffered just under six weeks ago.

"I thought I broke it, because as soon as I went over on it I heard like a snap.

"Obviously that was the ligament that snapped. As well as that, I tore the joint capsule.

"I looked down and 30 seconds later it got the size of a tennis ball, basically because all the fluid came out of the joint capsule, so it just filled up.

"When I got the scan that night as well it showed that obviously I totally ruptured one ligament and I had a grade two in the other.

"And if that had been a total rupture in that one, then that would have required surgery. So luckily that wasn't the case.

"As injuries go, it could have been worse. I was lucky that I didn't do more damage and thankfully after five weeks of hard work and rehab I'm back playing," he said.

McIlroy kept his hand in, literally, by putting while he had the protective boot on the ankle, then progressed to chipping, pitching and wedge play, and finally to hitting full shots, all the time receiving treatment.

The prognosis was a healing period of six to eight weeks. At five weeks he is slightly ahead of schedule, and his final concern was the nine-hour flight from Portugal where he was based last week, to the USA.

"I was more worried about the flight in terms of the ankle, just to see if it would swell up at all. But luckily it didn't," he said.

As he said earlier in the week, playing 72 holes at Quinta do Lago in Portugal was the final test that convinced the world number one and his fitness advisor, Steve McGregor, that the ankle could stand up to tournament play again.

REWARDS

On Tuesday night McIlroy hosted the Champions' Dinner for the second time, having won the PGA last year and in 2012.

This championship is the one which he has played better in than any others, despite his success in the 2011 US Open and 2014 British Open. In six PGA appearances since his debut in 2009, he has won twice, been tied for third twice, tied for eighth, and tied-64th.

"I think more than anything else the golf courses that we have played in this tournament have been set up in such a way that suits my type of game and really rewards good driving.

"It's usually a fair test of golf, somewhere within 10- to 15-under par usually wins this tournament," he said.

McIlroy and Jordan Spieth are the two best golfers in the world officially, and the Ulsterman is not surprised at talk of a 'Jordan Spieth era'.

"I'm not surprised at all that the narrative has went from me to Jordan, and to both of us being here.

"Jordan has played phenomenal golf for the last 12 months. To win the first two Majors of the year, and to have a great chance at St Andrews, he's taking up a lot of the limelight this year which is deservedly so. I mean it's one of the best years of golf that we have seen in a long, long time.

"We live in such a world that everything's so reactionary and everything happens so quickly that a year ago after I won this tournament it was the 'Rory era', and then Jordan wins the Masters and it's the 'Jordan era'.

"Eras last about six months these days instead of 20 years. But it's just the way the world is. With social media and everything having to be instant, it's the world that we live in," he said.

McIlroy believes his game is good enough to give him a chance of retaining his title.

It would be a tall order even without the injury lay-off, as since 1958, when the PGA moved to a stroke-play format, only Tiger Woods has won successive titles.

Woods did that twice, in 1999 and 2000, and in 2006 and 2007.

The achievements of Spieth and others such as Rickie Fowler help keep McIlroy focused and motivated.

"Whenever you see someone put together a season like this, of course you become motivated. But as well you're inspired.

"The performances that he (Spieth) put in at the Masters and the US Open and even at St Andrews when he was so close, you know, they were inspirational performances."

US PGA Championship, Live Sky Sports 4, 7.00

Irish Independent

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