Rory McIlroy: 'Lads trip' to Ibiza restored a smile to my face
Rory McIlroy would not have been the first young man who has recently broken up to run off with mates for a week in Ibiza.
Yet the holiday a fortnight ago had more to do with a refresh before what he hopes will be a major-winning second half to the season – starting with the Open.
However one feels about McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki (and, in tennis circles, it seems it rather ridiculously became a villain-victim scenario), the 25-year-old should not be begrudged his time away.
When missing the cut at the Irish Open last month, McIlroy felt “flat” having played six out of eight weeks. Some ‘me time’ was plainly in order.
“It was the first time in four years that I had gone on a lads’ trip,” McIlroy said. “It was great, chilled out and it was nice to get away from the game for a bit. I didn’t touch a golf club while I was there. But once I got back, I really wanted to get back into it again.”
McIlroy managed to avoid a few ‘controversies’ while on the island.
There were repeated reports of a new love interest, while the latest details from the commercial court in Dublin where he is suing his former management company, Horizon Sports, led some to suggest Europe’s Ryder Cup harmony was under threat.
Graeme McDowell’s name was brought into the legal debate by McIlroy’s lawyers and the fear was a fallout between friends would spell trouble for Europe captain, Paul McGinley.
“It’s complete nonsense,” McIlroy said. “I would love to tee it up with G-Mac in the Ryder Cup and Paul knows that. I am still as close to G-Mac. There’s obviously been a few things that have gone on that have strained the relationship, but I still talk to him regularly and catch up with him.
“He has stayed out of everything as much as he can. There’s no ill feeling towards him from my side. G-Mac knows what is going on [with the court case]. It hasn’t affected our relationship in any way. At times, it’s awkward because he’s with someone [McIlroy’s former agents] and I’m with someone but we are the same two people. He’s been one of my best friends on Tour and showed me the ropes. I will always be grateful for what he’s done.”
As evidence, McIlroy could easily use his wide smile when asked about McDowell retaining his French Open title at Le Golf National on Sunday, a victory which will surely earn him a place at Gleneagles. “It was great to see him do it,” McIlroy said.
“I was following it on the way up from Royal Liverpool. I was listening to the Wimbledon final but they gave the occasional update from the golf and Michael’s son was also telling us what was happening over the phone. It was a fantastic performance by G-Mac.”
Michael is Michael Bannon, McIlroy’s long-term coach, who looked on approvingly as his student put on a highly impressive clinic at the official opening of the equally impressive first Nike Performance Fitting Centre at Archerfield Links. At one stage, the computer informed the stunned audience that McIlroy had hit a three-wood 315 yards.
The last time McIlroy was at the exclusive club in North Berwick was when he stayed there 12 months ago during the Open at nearby Muirfield. It was not a happy experience at what is turning out to be not a happy tournament for McIlroy. His tie for third at St Andrews in 2010 is his only top-20 finish at the Open, with his last three efforts amounting to a tie for 25th, a tie for 60th and then that missed cut 12 months ago.
And if that sequence is not enough to spur on the doubters there have been his hangdog reactions. At Sandwich in 2011 he said: “I’ll just have to wait for a year when the weather is nice.” At Muirfield, he said, “I felt brain-dead out there”. All very convincing.
Yet McIlroy likes defying his own conventions. He proved so at Wentworth, a course he supposedly detests, where he won the PGA Championship with a final round of 66 in May. He sees no reason why his third major should not be at his ‘home major’.
“I know what I said at St George’s, but it was heat of the moment. And last year I was struggling with my game and was searching for answers to loads of things,” he said. “But listen, I’ve won big tournaments on links courses and shot a 63 in the Open at St Andrews and a course-record 61 when I was at Portrush; which isn’t too shabby. So, of course I can play links golf; it’s just a case of getting the hang of it again and I think this week of competitive play is going to be really good for me.”
For the first time in five years, McIlroy will tee it up in the Scottish Open and, although the stats are persuasive with the last four winners all playing in the event which traditionally precedes the Open, it is the change of venue which has lured the Northern Irishman.
“In the last couple of years I’ve gone straight from playing on the PGA Tour into links golf and that’s not easy,” he said. “Castle Stuart [where the Scottish Open was held from 2011-13] is a modern golf course with big wide fairways and big, undulating, American-style greens. I never played because I didn’t feel it would prepare me that well.
“I think moving the Scottish Open to Royal Aberdeen is a big improvement and I think that’s why there is such a strong field heading there.”
Since returning from his break, McIlroy and Bannon have undergone nine days of intensive links practice, which included a visit to Royal County Down.
And before making his way to Archerfield, he spent two days at Hoylake. He liked what he saw. “I still think St Andrews is my best chance to win an Open because of how comfortable I am there,” McIlroy said. “But seeing Hoylake over the last couple of days, it is very scoreable.
“I said at the start of the year I wanted to get back into giving myself a chance of winning majors. I was eighth at the Masters but was disappointed to fall away on the weekend of the US Open. There’s still two majors left so there’s a lot of left to play this year. And I’m relaxed and ready.”
He can thank Ibiza for that. He might even throw the winning party there.