Friday 28 November 2014

Rory McIlroy: I nearly quit golf when I was 17

Published 30/07/2014 | 08:59

Rory McIlroy was all smiles yesterday
Rory McIlroy was all smiles yesterday

Rory McIlroy has admitted he nearly quit golf at the age of 17.

The Irishman, who won the British Open two weeks ago to add to his previous two Majors, was just one year away from turning pro when he won the Mullingar Scratch Cup in 2006 - but Claret Jugs and Green Jackets were not in his thoughts.

"Ye I was ready to give it up when I was 17 and I remember the drive home with my dad after I'd won the Mullingar Scratch Cup," said McIlroy.

"It was about a three-hour drive back home and I remember saying to dad that I've just won but I don't feel happy or excited.

Keegan Bradley (L), Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler (R) walk down the 16th hole during a practice round for the World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club
Keegan Bradley (L), Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler (R) walk down the 16th hole during a practice round for the World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club

"I got back home and didn't play golf for about three days and didn't practise.  I must have been an impulsive teenager going through some hormonal issues.

"But that was the only time. Apart from that, I love the game of golf."

This time last year, Rory McIlroy was so out of form that he was rated a 28/1 outsider to successfully defend his US PGA title.

Twelve months on, the 25-year-old is the 6/1 favourite, newly-crowned Open champion who is three-quarters of the way to a career Grand Slam. And he is not finished yet.

He is back in action in tomorrow's starting Bridgestone Invitaional in Firestone and is determined to continue his good form.

"It's great to be introduced as the Open champion but that's not all I want to be this year," McIlroy said. "I want to achieve a lot more."

McIlroy's first two major titles were both won by eight shots, the 2011 US Open coming just two months after his collapse when four ahead going into the final round of the Masters and the 2012 US PGA championship following at Kiawah Island.

He threatened to repeat those feats by taking a six-shot lead into the last round at Royal Liverpool and moving further clear with a birdie on the first, but in the end had to hold off a charging Sergio Garcia to win by two.

"It's definitely a different feeling than winning the US Open," he added ahead of the final major of the year at Valhalla. "I could have taken the rest of 2011 off and been totally happy!

"Winning the first one is sort of a relief, especially how I did it and after the Masters and everything there was a bit of a weight off my shoulders.

"Winning the Open feels pretty similar to the second one at the PGA because I set some goals after that and nearly achieved them all. I always feel like winning a major is almost a springboard in a way, especially after Kiawah.

"I didn't want to rest on that, I'd already had a pretty good year but I wanted to keep going, win the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai and keep that number one position in the world. I think every time you have success you have to reassess your goals."

One of those goals is reclaiming the world number one spot he last held in March last year, while the biggest is becoming just the sixth player to win all four majors by gaining redemption at Augusta National.

McIlroy insists he has never had Jack Nicklaus' record haul of 18 major titles in his sights, believing it would be foolish to do so and then reflect with disappointment on his career if he fell short of such an ambitious target.

It is a wise approach and another encouraging sign in a season which has twice seen him stress how golf has become his number one priority once more, the one thing in life he thinks about before going to bed and upon waking up in the morning.

"That's what I've always done, it's been my life since I was 10 years old," added the former child prodigy. "Waking up every morning with that drive to want to get better, to want to be the best, that's the place that I'm in in my life right now and that's my main objective and my main focus. I feel like I am playing well and just want to continue to do that."

That has not always appeared to be the case as McIlroy's personal life was lived out in the glare of the world's media, including calling off his wedding to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki on the eve of the BMW PGA Championship.

But four days later he was holding the trophy aloft at Wentworth and vowing to limit his time on social media for the foreseeable future, perhaps influenced by a two-hour meeting with Nicklaus where no topic of conversation was off limits.

"I didn't grow up wanting to lead a normal life, I grew up wanting to win major championships," McIlroy added. "I think you can still do both, you can lead a relatively normal life.

"The week after winning a big tournament like the Open is abnormal but I think you can still have the drive and the dedication to try to become one of the best players ever and still do relatively normal things.

"It's become increasingly difficult with social media, your life is just out there, but I just want to live my life the way I want to live it and at the same time I feel like I can still be driven and dedicated enough that I can still try to become the best player that I can be."

Consistency has been arguably the one thing missing from McIlroy's game, but focusing on two "trigger" words as he did during the Open might prove to be the key to future success.

"For me it's all a mental thing," he added. "If I can get myself in the right frame of mind, week in week out, then hopefully I'll have a lot more of those 'on' weeks.

"Everyone is going to have bad weeks, it's inevitable, we're not robots. There are plenty of players that would like to be as inconsistent as me. I know my good is very good and my bad can sometimes be very bad but hopefully I am on the right path to be more consistent."

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