Golf is, and always has been, mostly about losing, but he can count the ones that have really hurt on the fingers of one hand.
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There was the blown four-shot lead at the Masters in 2011; the missed cut in the Open in 2013; the defeat to Patrick Reed at the 2016 Ryder Cup; and that dog day afternoon in September 2018, when he sat in the locker room after the Tour Championship in Atlanta with those god-awful chants beating on his ears:
He had idolised Woods as a boy, and valued him as a friend, but after a season of coming up short on Sundays, he'd gone out that afternoon determined to take him down. "I wanted to give a really good account of myself. To take the fight to him," he says. "It was an opportunity to beat Tiger Woods, this mythical creature in the red shirt."
But he'd folded like a cheap suit.
He showered and changed and was taken to a local airfield. His jet was waiting. Harry and Erica were on board. Within minutes they were bound for Paris and the Ryder Cup, but it was hours before he thawed.
He stared out the window, his head pounding with thought:
'I know I can play better than that.'
'I know I can beat him.'
'I know I can play better than that.'
'I know I can beat him.'
'I know I can play better than that.'
'I know I can beat him.'
And then, out of nowhere, high above the Atlantic, he found something.
In the year 170, at night in his tent on the front lines of the war in Germania, Marcus Aurelius, the emperor of the Roman Empire, sat down to write. Or perhaps it was before dawn at the palace in Rome. Or he stole a few seconds to himself during the games, ignoring the carnage on the floor of the Colosseum below. The exact location is not important. What matters is that this man, known today as the last of the Five Good Emperors, sat down to write. Not to an audience or for publication but to himself, for himself. And what he wrote is undoubtedly one of history's most effective formulas for overcoming every negative situation we may encounter in life. A formula for thriving not just in spite of whatever happens but because of it.
The Obstacle is the Way,
Paul Kimmage: So you start to write?
Rory McIlroy: Yeah, in a black journal, like that Moleskine (on the table) there. I write the date, how I'm feeling, I must have written, I don't know, ten pages of stuff on the flight back to Florida from Portrush, but we'll talk about that.
PK: You're also reading a lot. At the Masters, you had just started a Steve Jobs biography and a book called Digital Minimalism?
RM: Yeah, Cal Newport. He's got Digital Minimalism and another one called Deep Work, about the capability of the human brain, but Digital Minimalism was massive. Kyle Porter from CBS had mentioned it in an article he wrote about Augusta and how it was great that people weren't staring at screens (the no phones policy at the Masters) but were talking and experiencing things.
PK: So you went looking for the book?
RM: Yeah, and it made me more . . . aware, I guess. 'Why am I taking my phone out? Is it to learn something? Look at a message? Send an email?' Because when it becomes this (flicks a finger across the palm of his hand) . . .
RM: So I get these recommendations from people - Donal (Casey, the CEO of his management team) is a voracious reader - and I'll check them out. There have definitely been books that have resonated with me and authors I've really liked that have helped on, and off, the golf course and yeah, you could call it self-help. There's been a lot of self-help in there.
PK: Let's talk about a few more: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.
RM: Essentialism was one of the first I read.
PK: What's the nub of that?
RM: Saying no.
PK: (Laughs) Okay.
RM: So basically, instead of being pulled in six or seven directions all the time, which I inevitably am, it's being able to whittle down what's important and what's not. I've said it in a couple of press conferences, 'I've done enough of trying to please people, I'm going to please myself.' That's essentialism, basically.
PK: The Greatest Salesman in the World?
RM: Yes, Og Mandino, that's more of a . . . it's a play on the Ten Commandments, or how (the writings in) these ancient scrolls can change your life. The one that resonated most was, 'I will greet this day with love in my heart.' That's a good way to live, especially in a golf environment where you've got this competitive prick that keeps coming out.
RM: I'm not trying to be a hippie or anything, just trying to balance that competitiveness with a bit of compassion and stuff.
PK: The Obstacle Is the Way.
RM: The best one I've read. Ryan Holiday is brilliant. So, one of the biggest things I haven't had enough of in my life is rationality. I've been impulsive at times, and said things off the cuff, and acted on things without thinking them through. And if I had read The Obstacle Is the Way sooner, a few things might have been different.
PK: Go on.
RM: He gets into Marcus Aurelius and the Greeks and where stoicism and the stoics come from, and gives examples of great people through the years that have displayed wonderful resilience and overcome things by following the stoic way. I mean, I had no idea what Arthur Ashe had to go through to play tennis, Amelia Earhart, Thomas Edison . . . there are so many examples.
PK: Give me one.
RM: So, back in the day, Thomas Edison had what would now be called an R&D facility - research and development - for all these mad experiments he was doing. And it caught fire one night and all his work, which probably equated to a hundred million dollars today, was destroyed. So he's standing there looking at it all going down in flames and he's with his son. And he says, 'Go get your mother and your sister.' And his son says, 'Why would you want them to see this?' And he says, 'They might never see a fire like this again.' Because there were all these colours from the chemicals. And he just had this wonderful way of looking at the world as everything went down the fucking drain.
RM: And then he went on to create and do what he did. I mean, we probably couldn't live without what Thomas Edison invented. So The Obstacle Is the Way is about challenge, loving a challenge, and I haven't always loved a challenge. Things were great if it was easy but if it wasn't, 'Fuck, that's too hard.' Now it's, 'Make it difficult', because it will make me better.
PK: Any other books?
RM: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson.
RM: Erica gave me that. "Read this," she said. It's brilliant.
PK: Remind me again when you left school?
RM: Hmmm . . . 15 years ago?
PK: And what qualifications you had?
PK: Your thirst for learning is remarkable.
RM: I wish I'd had it back then.
PK: Do you think you would be better off?
RM: Probably not. It's a journey and I'm still on it, reading, learning how the mind works, what I can apply to myself. There are other books I read out of interest - autobiographies and stuff - but they've been the big ones this year that have helped me get to this point.
PK: Okay, well let's get to that point. Take it from the start of the year - a tie for fourth at the Tournament of Champions in Kapalua and a tie for fifth at Torrey Pines.
RM: Yeah, played in another final group (with the leader, Gary Woodland) in Kapalua but Xander (Schauffele) went out and shot 62 to win. And people won't remember Torrey Pines but I'll probably remember that tournament for the rest of my life. I hit it terrible that week, but I was right in the middle of The Obstacle Is the Way and every time I missed a green it was, 'Right! Love the challenge. What am I going to do?' (Laughs) I had this enthusiasm for missing greens!
RM: It was unbelievable.
PK: Is Harry invested in all of this?
RM: Yeah, I talk to him about it.
PK: So it's not just, 'It's a five iron Rory.'
RM: No, like I birdied the last on Sunday - I think I chipped in on 17 as well - and I remember looking at him and going (laughs), 'Fuck! We've stole at this place this week!' And people won't . . . it's not important to them, but it's important to me. I got the absolute most out of myself that week.
PK: You then have a run of great performances to The Players Championship: fourth at Riviera, second in Mexico and sixth in Bay Hill. And that's encouraging.
RM: It's very encouraging.
PK: This is what you've been trying to address?
RM: Yeah, every week I'm getting the best out of myself.
PK: But you're not winning. And you've been getting asked about it for a while: Rory and his Sunday blues.
PK: How big is the buzz from The Players Championship?
RM: Big. I sat in that room where I had told everyone to turn off the TV with the trophy and a glass of wine in my hand, and was just . . . so satisfied and proud of myself - not for the fact that I won the tournament, but because of how I did it. There were a couple of tough moments - the double on the fourth - but again it was The Obstacle Is the Way: 'I'm in this fight and I'm going to see it through.' And I didn't make a bogey after that.
RM: I hit some really good shots when I needed to down the stretch and was playing with that . . . freedom. So winning was great and getting the trophy was lovely but the real satisfaction was . . . yeah, overcoming.
In case you missed it: Paul Kimmage's previous interviews with Rory McIlroy...
7. Kiss of the Scorpion
McIlroy had never faced Woods, 43, in match play, and he clearly had no idea how quickly the conditions would change from warm to chilly. There was the rain and wind that blew in on the back nine, which was forecast. But McIlroy ought to also have been prepared to face an opponent, in Woods, who was a dispassionate adversary intent on making putts, not conversation . . . McIlroy tried to draw Woods into casual conversation early in the match only to have his attempts peter out like short putts. They did not talk during a lengthy delay on the fifth tee while they waited for the fairway to clear.
The New York Times,
March 30 2019
PK: Let's get back to The Scorpion and The Frog.
PK: You win The Players and travel to Austin for the WGC Matchplay and cruise through your group to face Tiger in the quarter-finals.
PK: He's a hero and a pal, but he's also a scorpion and you're a frog.
"Hey Tiger, why don't we cross the river together?"
"We'll throw our arms around each other."
And he shoves a fucking dagger into you halfway across.
PK: It's in his nature.
RM: Yeah, Tony Finau told a similar story at the Presidents Cup about Augusta. They're walking up the fifth hole together in the final round and Tony says, "How's the family Tiger? How's the kids?" And Tiger says, "They're good," and walks on (laughs). So, same sort of thing.
RM: Yeah, it was a big day for me after (what happened at) the Tour Championship. I played better and hung in there for the most part, and was making a bit of a comeback until (the mess at) 16 and that killed it. But yeah, I would say Tiger has a bit more 'frog' in him than before, but the majority is still scorpion, whereas I'm probably . . . I've got some scorpion in me when I need to but my natural tendency is to be the frog.
RM: But I was angry after that. I didn't talk to the press.
PK: Why were you angry?
RM: For the same reasons I was angry at the Tour Championship. I always say that you win or you learn . . .
PK: And you hadn't learned?
RM: I had learned a little bit. I had controlled myself better, played better, played with a bit more (grit), but as I was clearing my locker and going to the airport, the same thing hit me. 'I know I can do better than that. I know I can beat him."
RM: And I never want to make it between me and someone else, because golf is fundamentally you against yourself. And against the golf course. You shouldn't care about anyone else. It doesn't matter. But because he is who he is - and more than anyone else - it's hard to detach.
PK: And next up is the Masters.
RM: Yeah, and I'm still feeling good about my game but I got off to a slow start and was never in the mix.
PK: You were out early in the final round?
RM: (Laughs) Yeah, and off the 10th tee! Played all right, shot 68, but it felt like I was playing another golf tournament.
PK: You finish and drive back to the house you're renting.
PK: Erica is there and you watch it on TV.
PK: And initially you're not rooting for Tiger.
PK: Go on.
RM: I think Francesco (Molinari) was up there but I guess for me it was more . . . obviously there's the hype train that comes along with Tiger winning, and six months of being asked about it at press conferences. So I'm looking at it selfishly, 'Jesus! Here we go!' But once I took myself out of it, and thought of what it meant for the game, it was, 'Wow! What he's doing is pretty special.'
PK: Was there anything you saw that surprised you?
RM: With his play?
RM: How well he drove it - he drove it great. People always talk about what he did in his prime, when he chipped in against DiMarco in '05. What they don't remember is that he bogeyed the next two holes, went into the play-off and blasted it way right off the tee. But this was . . . he birdies 16 and then steps up on 17 and hits this unbelievable tee shot. So that was different.
RM: But I think what I admired most was . . . I mean, everyone was going nuts: 'Holy shit! He could win the Masters!' But it was business as usual. He birdies 15, birdies 16, and it was just . . .
PK: His focus?
RM: Yeah, he's in his own little world and just following his process. He probably didn't think about winning until the end, you know? But it was a bit of a weird day. We started early and ended early and . . .
PK: It wasn't what it should have been?
RM: No. It didn't have the things you associate with the final round at Augusta, late in the day, the long shadows, that massive buzz. But it was still incredible.
PK: You finish eighth at Quail Hollow next, and then it's off to Bethpage for the PGA.
PK: And another slow start.
RM: Yeah. No one is going to remember it, but I left Bethpage on Sunday after finishing in the top ten (eighth) and going 'Fuck! I did well.' Shane (Lowry) and I had shot the best score of the day and got ourselves up from being nowhere. And people will say, and I don't like it because it feels like a criticism, 'Ahh, another back-door top ten.' But what does that mean? We all have to play 72 holes. And yes, I get that you're not playing under the pressure of a final group but that whole 'back-door-top-ten' thing is one of my pet peeves.
RM: So, yeah, got off to a bad start but tried my best until the end and came away feeling positive about my game, but with some work to do on my swing.
PK: You told Carson Daly ('The Rory & Carson Podcast') that you sat down after the Masters and analysed your four rounds almost stroke-by-stroke. For example, you missed the 11th fairway three times on the right, and the 17th fairway three times on the right.
PK: Has that changed? Are you working harder now?
RM: No, that's always been there.
PK: Because people would expect that from Pádraig (Harrington) but not you: 'Oh, Rory is gifted. He doesn't have to work.'
RM: Yeah, the perceptions are amazing. I live in Jupiter at The Bear's Club with a lot of other PGA Tour players. And there's two people in that area that practice more than anyone else - Justin Thomas and me. And again, that wouldn't be the perception, not of me anyway, but that's the case. I did a lot of work with Michael (his coach, Michael Bannon) after Bethpage and was thinking so much about my swing when I went to The Memorial that I played terribly and missed the cut. But I had an opportunity to work on a few things that weekend in Ohio and went to Canada feeling I had really turned the corner.
RM: One of the things I wasn't doing was this little draw that I like to hit. But I started to get comfortable with it in Canada and when I do that, and really trust it, I can go on these runs.
PK: And swing like Federer. You win by seven shots.
RM: Yeah, played great and was really confident going into the US Open (at Pebble Beach). And I started well (68) but it's hard because . . . I thought eight-under would be a great score for the week and I finished at five-under. Gary Woodland shot 13 and beat Brooks (Koepka) by three. And people were saying the set-up was too easy - it wasn't. It was tough.
PK: So another top-ten finish (ninth) and it's time for a break?
RM: Yeah, Erica and I did a road trip down to Big Sur for a few days, and then went to LA and decompressed. I think you need these little breaks because the season is so long and it was nice to get away and not think about golf.
PK: What did you do in LA?
RM: (Laughs) I'd never seen Pretty Woman before - Erica had made me watch it earlier in the year - so I said, 'I want to stay at the Beverly Wilshire where they made Pretty Woman.' (laughs) It was nice. I like LA. I wanted to go up to the Griffith Observatory where they shot La La Land. I loved La La Land - it's one of the best movies I've ever seen.
PK: I'm laughing at you.
PK: Pretty Woman.
PK: La La Land.
RM: Well, you recommended it to me!
PK: I know, it's just . . . the romantic in you.
RM: Yeah, I cried so much, like when they (Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone) do those two scenarios of what might have been - life with him or life without him - I was like phhhhhhhhh! And I'm watching it with Erica thinking, 'Jeeze! What if things had been different for us?' But the music . . . all of it . . . it's just great.
PK: Your mind is interesting.
PK: You were asked about money at one of your press conferences, and how generous you had been to your caddie the last time you won the FedEx Cup. And you mentioned a song you had been listening to about flying first class . . .
RM: 'Middle Child', J Cole.
PK: That's it, so I dug it out expecting something smoochy and its hardcore rap!
I got a few mil'
But not all of them rich
What good is the bread if my niggas is broke?
What good is first class if my niggas can't sit?
That's my next mission.
That's why I can't quit.
Just like LeBron
Get my niggas more chips
Where did that come from? Who pulls lyrics from a rap song to make a point about the value of money?
RM: There's a lot of rap music that's very insightful, and J Cole is known as a guy that stayed humble and wasn't carried away or besotted by money. I was just trying to make the point that, look, we earn a lot of money, and that's nice, but the real joy or satisfaction you get from it, is that you can help other people along the way. That's what having money is all about - not running out to buy a Ferrari.
PK: You've an eclectic taste in music.
RM: A very eclectic taste.
PK: And in most things. You were listening to a podcast ('Stuff You Should Know') recently on pottery in Mozambique?
RM: Yeah, it's two guys in Atlanta and they basically pick a topic and research it, whether it's pottery in Mozambique or this whole vaping (controversy) in the United States, and it's fascinating. I put them on in the car. I was listening to one the other day, 'The Joe Rogan Experience' with Edward Snowden. Brilliant. And as I said, I wish I'd had this thirst for knowledge when I was in school, but at least I'm experiencing it now. And I'm not trying to be a know-it-all, that's not the reason, it's just that I enjoy learning about this stuff.
PK: Okay, let's go to Portrush.
8. 'Where's Rory?'
Rory McIlroy is not playing a golf tournament this week. He's representing a nation. The anticipation around McIlroy at the 2019 Open Championship is constantly bubbling. You can feel it in every step on the course, the same course where Rory celebrated his 10th birthday and, at 16, set the course record - a 61! The crowds are in a heightened sense of awareness about the man chasing his fifth Major. So, too, is the town, where murals of the 30-year-old adorn walls on the streets.
Sure, there are other local favourites, led by Graeme McDowell, who was born in Portrush and still has a home here. Those about town would love to see G-Mac win, even though they know he probably won't. McDowell is the cuddly everyman, But McIlroy is their champion, of Portrush and beyond. Walking the course on Monday, amid the buzz of a Tiger practice round, you could hear the crowd buzzing about a different star: "Where's Rory today?"
Golf.Com, July 17 2019
PK: So you walk out on the first day to a huge ovation and now you're looking down the fairway with a two iron in your hand and 'that feeling' in your head.
PK: And you haven't prepared for it. You've prepared for the Open and the challenge of the course but not for 'that feeling'.
RM: Yeah it was almost overwhelming.
PK: Did you hear what Brandel Chamblee said after the round?
RM: No, I didn't.
PK: Do you want me to tell you or will we move on?
RM: No, tell me.
PK: "This is nothing new what we saw today out of Rory McIlroy. He has had, historically, a bad run of first rounds. When someone plays poor golf at the beginning of a tournament and then great golf the rest of the way, it's not something physical. It's not something technical. On paper coming in here, demonstrably, Rory McIlroy was the best player. I know what the world rankings say, but when someone consistently performs under expectations, the word is choking. We shy away from it. But now it's five years (since he won a Major)."
PK: So the question, and the thing I'm curious about, is where 'choking' sits in the context of 'that feeling'?
PK: Go on.
RM: (Laughs) I wouldn't define that as choking. For me, choking is what happened at Augusta in 2011, or to Adam Scott at Lytham in 2012. It's having a lead and blowing it, not getting off to bad starts, that's more of a . . . tentativeness or a fear. There's definitely a bit of fear. The fear of failure. You're trying not to make bogeys instead of trying to make birdies. It's a very different mindset.
RM: That's the difference. I think if I'd had a few leads in Majors over those five years that Brandel is talking about, and I wasn't able to convert them, then I would agree with him. But in the five years since Valhalla, I wouldn't say choked. I've underperformed, especially at the start of those tournaments, but I don't think I've choked.
PK: Okay, go back to the first tee at Portrush. Harry wants you to hit the two iron but you're not sure about it?
RM: I knew it was the right club but I didn't really want to hit it. But that can often happen and again, what I'm trying to do is to play with freedom: 'Just stand up and try to make a good swing.' But I put a bit too much right hand in it and it got going on the wind and just out of bounds.
PK: What are you thinking now?
RM: 'Jesus! Good start.' But there was a lot of golf left so then it was, 'Try and make a four with your next ball.' I hit the second one left into the wispy stuff and then for the fourth shot - the second with the second ball - the club got wrapped over with the taller grass, and I had to take an unplayable drop from the ferns. Pitched it on - I actually played a decent pitch - and missed the putt (for a quadruple bogey). 'Jesus! A nightmare start.'
PK: Shane was playing ahead of you. He says he couldn't believe it when they posted it on the board. There was a wave of absolute shock that rolled over the course.
PK: Do you have a sense of that walking off the first green?
RM: No, not at all. I was in my own (bubble), 'Okay, it is what it is. There are some chances coming up. Try and get back to even par.' And I played a good stretch of golf in the middle and was on my way to doing it. I hit a good shot into 16 and had a putt for birdie . . . No, sorry, this is what happened. I hit it short-left of the green and putted it up and left it short - maybe five/six feet - and really put myself under pressure to hole it but I missed. And I was still thinking about (the miss) and went up to tap it in and missed that one: 'Jesus!'
PK: And that was it.
PK: You rented a house for the week?
RM: Yeah, with Erica and her friend, Maggie.
PK: You said you went back and watched a couple of episodes of The Sinner, opened a bottle of wine and slept well.
PK: No tossing and turning?
RM: No, there was a lot of tossing and turning the night before but not on Thursday. It was almost like a weight had been taken off: 'Well, it can't really get much worse than this'.
PK: But a lot the night before?
RM: Yeah, but I think that's the same for every Major. It's anticipation. You get four chances a year. I don't think you ever sleep as well as you can.
PK: Did you see your parents after the round?
RM: I don't think I did. They were staying at home, they weren't staying in Portrush. I'm sure dad sent some texts: 'Are you okay?' But they do their own thing at tournaments and I rarely see them.
PK: And Harry?
RM: We were staying in separate houses across the street from each other but I don't think I saw him. I went back and sort of locked myself away. I wanted to be on my own for a bit to try and figure things out. I sort of went into my own little shell.
PK: How's Erica when you're like that?
RM: She's good. She's always good. She consoled me and put it in perspective. It was just a round of golf. There's more important things in life. Everything would be okay. Normally, I wouldn't dream of drinking or sharing a bottle of wine during a tournament but I just felt, 'Jeeze, I need to unwind and get my mind off it.'
PK: You had a long wait on Friday? You weren't playing until ten past three.
PK: Did it feel long?
RM: It was okay. I had some breakfast and went to the gym and got a really good sweat going that cleared my head a bit. I changed into my golf stuff, had a bit of lunch and then it was off to the range to warm up.
PK: And the only goal now is to make the cut?
RM: Yeah. It was a shitty afternoon and I genuinely thought, 'I don't know if anyone is going to come out and watch me. Why would they? What's the point?' But as the round went on it started to build and the support on the back nine was just . . . I actually had to stop myself from crying a couple of times on the course.
RM: I had a birdie putt on 14 and before the ball even went in the hole, I could see the people in the grandstands on the left erupt. It was unbelievable. I'm getting emotional even thinking about it now (his eyes well). I didn't realise how much I meant to people. And I didn't realise how much their support meant to me.
PK: Explain that.
RM: I moved away from Northern Ireland in 2011 and have spent the chunk of my career doing stuff around the world. And you come back from time to time and it feels the same, but that connection is lost along the way. That's what hit home that day; that you can never forget where you come from, or what you mean to people. It was like the whole country just wrapped their arms around me.
PK: One of the great experiences?
RM: One of the best I've ever had on a golf course. People say, 'Jeeze, what about his first round in Portrush?' but it comes back to that amnesia Brandel was talking about. Yeah, the first round was terrible, and I don't want to remember that, but I'll remember the charge I made on Friday for the rest of my life.
9. It says in the papers . . .
As dusk gathered around the closing holes at Royal Portrush on Friday evening, Rory McIlroy cut an heroic figure in a situation of high drama. Wave after wave of cheering greeted his every move as he edged closer to the half-way qualifying mark. It was wonderful theatre with a local hero centre-stage. Yet as things transpired, a player viewed as the potential winner of several more Major championships was about to depart the scene of battle before the really serious engagement of the weekend.
Much was expected of McIlroy in the 148th Open Championship and one imagines he would have been seriously disappointed if that wasn't the case. And what happens? A display totally unworthy of the player, or his fans, left him with such a mountain to climb that not even a sparkling 65 on Friday could repair the damage. This isn't a time for cheap shots at a seriously talented sportsman. Rather, it is an attempt at understanding why that talent seems to go wanting on the really big occasion.
July 21 2019
PK: Did you go home Saturday or stay in Portrush?
RM: (Laughs) We had Maggie with us, and the plan was to show her the Giant's Causeway on the way (home). But the car park was full with tourists and buses, so we took the scenic route to Belfast so Maggie could see a little of the Antrim coast.
PK: That's a beautiful road.
RM: It's gorgeous. So we did that, and got back to Holywood, and I watched all the golf and Shane's 63, which was unbelievable.
PK: His first memory of you is the Boys' Interprovincials at Warrenpoint in 2005. "He was playing No 1 for Ulster," he says, "but I was nowhere near No 1 for Leinster."
PK: What's your first memory of him?
RM: It would have been around that time at one of those Boys' International panel weekends with Neil Manchip (the national coach) at Carton House . . . seeing this big fella with the glasses and the great short game.
PK: That was it? His short game?
RM: Oh yeah, even back then.
PK: He says the first time you hung out together was at the European Youths Championship at Sotogrande in '06.
RM: Yeah, we played a lot together going on from that.
PK: And you're waiting for him by the 18th green three years later when he wins the Irish Open.
RM: Yeah, mad. I mean, for an amateur to do that was unbelievable.
PK: You advised him to turn pro. Did you think he'd make it?
RM: Well he'd just won the Irish Open . . .
PK: (Laughs) Sorry, that was dumb.
RM: What can you say? He had just won on Tour. I mean there are great amateurs you think will make great players and they struggle to get out on Tour. This win presented him with a two-year opportunity to learn, gain experience and earn some money. It's a hard thing to pass up.
PK: His first US Open at Congressional in 2011 was your first Major win. He says you played nine holes together on the Wednesday, and that he walked off the course that day feeling like a ten-handicapper. He says he told everyone there was no way you would finish outside the top five.
RM: (Laughs) Yeah, I had it that week . . . whatever having it is. I played the course the week before and didn't show up until Tuesday night. I played nine holes on Wednesday with Shane and then teed it up in the tournament.
PK: (Laughs) No tossing and turning?
RM: No, Jeeze. There was no tossing and turning back then.
PK: And now it's a Saturday evening in Portrush and he's going to bed with a four-shot lead at the Open - a position he's been in before at Oakmont in 2016. What was your gut feeling?
RM: I thought that experience would help him on Sunday. I thought he learned a lot in Oakmont and would handle it better, and I didn't think he handled it badly, but that was a weird day and a lot went on.
PK: You flew back to Florida on Sunday.
RM: Yeah, we were moving into our new house and got back for the last five or six holes at Portrush. I was so happy for him. Those scenes with Wendy and Iris and his mum and dad, and his brother and Neil Manchip who I've known since I was 12 years old . . . it was brilliant. He's a great lad.
PK: I have another clip I'd like you to listen to. It's a review of the Sunday papers on Newstalk that went out as you were heading back to Florida. The host, Joe Molloy, is talking to Andy Dunne, a former rugby player, and Shane Keegan, a football manager about what the papers are saying about your performance at the Open. (He listens to the clip.)
Andy Dunne: There's a piece in the (Sunday Independent) from Dermot Gilleece. The subheading is 'The lack of a competitive edge means Rory's rivals simply don't fear him.' He describes how (McIlroy) was admirably courteous in his post-round interview on Thursday, but should he have been?
Joe Molloy: I was there for that actually.
Andy Dunne: Any sports psychologist worth their salt would say all emotions are valid, and being angry is valid, but he seems to have gone down this road of being reflective and philosophical no matter how bad the day goes. Dermot Gilleece ponders: "Are many of his contemporaries intimidated by him when they stand-up on the tee box?" And it's an important part of all sport. Look at how intimidating Djokovic is - even Federer is intimidating - but there doesn't seem to be a sense of menace about Rory, or a competitive sense of menace. I'm reading into the future but I don't expect Brooks Koepka's interview tonight is going to be full of niceties and reflection.
Joe Molloy: No, he'll be peeved.
Andy Dunne: I can only surmise how Rory is feeling, we can all only do that, but the lack of anger, and the lack of fight, seems to be worrying for me.
Joe Molloy: This is Dermot Gilleece: "Winning came so easily to McIlroy in his early years, that he never felt the need perhaps to sharpen a competitive edge to the extent of becoming a fearsome opponent." And that phrase 'a fearsome opponent' is not something actually you would apply to McIlroy. He's not a fearsome opponent. He's a glorious player and he's swashbuckling, but he's not a fearsome opponent.
Shane Keegan: But is that something he can develop? Or is that just your human nature? Can he become a fearsome opponent, or is his personality going to override any attempts (to change). He could go to the next interview and put a scowl on his face and be narky but I don't know if that's in his nature.
Joe Molloy: Koepka is not a loud, vociferous personality - if anything his quietness and self-control is what's so fearsome. So the fearsomeness is probably an internal thing. It's a grit, a resilience, that sometimes (McIlroy) doesn't have on these big pressurised situations. He used to . . .
Andy Dunne: As Shane says, if this is his nature, absolutely, to thine own self be true . . . But if he's to be considered among the greats, he probably needs to look at that nature. I'd love to see him say a few choice words, smack a golf club against his bag, get a slap in the face, do something to shake him out of this philosophical slumber, and actually get aggressive about his golf. Because he has more talent than most in the world.
Joe Molloy: He did say on Thursday, funnily enough, that he was planning to meet his parents that night, and that they wouldn't think any less of him for shooting a bad round. And his friends wouldn't think any less of him. Is this too much perspective for you in a top-level sportsman? Is that almost what you're saying?
Andy Dunne: Yeah, I think he's overly reflective, overly philosophical. I think that can be corrosive at times.
RM: Too much perspective? I've never heard that one before.
PK: I'm more interested in the point about 'philosophical slumber' and whether you can get too . . .
RM: Down that rabbit hole?
RM: Definitely. And you can become too passive, and that's no good either. But they're talking about fire and anger. What's anger ever done? It's not about getting angry. "Oh, he doesn't stand on the tee and intimidate people." I couldn't give a shit if I don't intimidate people! That's not what it's about! I'm not Novak Djokovic looking at Roger Federer on the other side of the net. I'm not trying to intimidate Brooks. I'm focused on me. It's about getting the best out of myself. In the past - and it's a criticism I've had of myself - I was overly emotional and impulsive and reactive and . . .
PK: But wasn't some of that reaction anger? And didn't you often play great with that?
RM: It's not anger - I wouldn't call it anger - it's a competitive drive: 'Fuck you! I'm going to prove you wrong.' And they can say all they want about being overly philosophical, but I've just had one of the best years of my career. And okay, it hasn't happened in the Majors but that will come.
RM: There's a balance to be struck. I'm not going to be this angry, competitive, uncompassionate (machine). Yeah, winning Majors and being successful is important to me, but it's also important for me to know that I can go and have dinner with my mum and dad after shooting a bad score, and they're still going to love me.
PK: Stay with Sunday and the flight back from Portrush. You said you wrote about ten pages in your journal?
PK: What did you write?
RM: I'll go and get it . . .
"We were playing together in the final round. I went to the toilet, closed the door, pulled iBooks out on my phone and found the page: 'Okay, you've got to do something very difficult.'"
Sunday Indo Sport