Older and wiser, Rory McIlroy has emerged as a true leader and the man ready to take golf’s torch from Tiger Woods at a critical time in the game’s history
Twenty six years have passed since Gary Smith met Earl Woods to talk about his son. The sportswriter was curious about an extraordinary speech the father had given just days before at an awards dinner in Georgia. Now Earl was doubling down: “Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity,” he said.
Smith was confused. Was the retired Lieutenant Colonel talking about sport? Did he mean his son would do more than Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson? Muhammad Ali and Arthur Ashe? “More than any of them,” Earl replied, “because he’s more charismatic, more educated, more prepared for this than anyone.”
Smith was incredulous: Anyone? His son would have more impact on humanity than Nelson Mandela? More impact than Gandhi? More than Buddha?
“Yes, because he has a larger forum than any of them. Because he’s playing a sport that’s international. Because he’s qualified through his ethnicity to accomplish miracles. He’s the bridge between the East and the West. There is no limit because he has the guidance. I don’t know yet exactly what form this will take. But he is the Chosen One. He’ll have the power to impact nations. Not people. Nations.”
The Chosen One.
Almost five hours of the interview have passed when the words enter my head. We’ve been talking about Rory McIlroy’s extraordinary performance at the Tour Championship in August, when he overturned a six-shot deficit in the final round to beat the world number one Scottie Scheffler and snatch the $18m first prize.
“I could see Scottie was struggling a bit,” he says, “and it was just a matter of keeping the pressure on him. It was the end of the year, and he’d had a big year, and you could tell that it wasn’t his day. And I kept the pressure on him. It’s probably one of the first times I felt my presence made a difference. I’d never really felt like that before.”
The notion sounded preposterous. “That’s ridiculous,” I said.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “I guess I’m now at an age where I’m a bit older than these guys and they maybe looked up to me one time.”
That’s when Earl entered my head. “There’s another factor that may explain it,” I said. “You are now the chosen one of The Chosen One.”
“He was your hero, then your friend, but it’s clearly more than that now. It’s almost like he’s said: ‘Rory is my guy. I’m bringing him on board’.”
Then he said something extraordinary …
Rory McIlroy walked off the 18th green here at the Earth Course on Sunday with his face frozen in anger. Hot and furious at his failure to win the DP World Tour Championship, he tore at the top of his shirt once he had left the public arena and managed to rip it almost in two.
Consequently, he left the recording area shortly afterwards looking faintly ridiculous, with the top half of his chest exposed and clearly in no fit state to do any interviews, either physically or mentally. A week that had promised so much had ended in another crushing disappointment and, following his tears at the Ryder Cup, another Sunday where, alongside his torso, all his emotions were laid bare. What a long flight home to Florida it must have been.
No one could have foreseen such events with just 90 minutes remaining at the last tournament of the year. What happened thereafter to provoke the McIlroy meltdown can be attributed to one-third atrocious luck, one third his own poor reaction, and the rest to the magnificence of Collin Morikawa, who ended up winning the event to become the first American to claim the Race to Dubai — and in true style.
Daily Mail, November 21, 2021
Paul Kimmage: On the Saturday of the Ryder Cup you decided, or at least the thought entered your head, that you weren’t going to play for the rest of the year.
Rory McIlroy: Yeah.
PK: That changed obviously on Sunday when you beat [Xander] Schauffele.
PK: Then you flew home to Jupiter.
PK: How long was it before you hit a ball again?
RM: Maybe a couple of days later. The first thing I did was to call Michael Bannon. I said, ‘This is what I’m thinking Michael. I want to try a few things by myself for a couple of weeks, go to Vegas for the CJ Cup, and maybe we could start working again before Dubai.’ And he was on board with all of that. I went to Vegas and played with no real swing thoughts, just tried to visualise my shots and let my body react to what I was seeing. Now I understand that you need to be technically sound to be able to do that, but I was taking ownership of my game again, and I wasn’t going to have technical thoughts overriding anything else.
PK: You win in Vegas and travel to Dubai in November.
RM: Yeah, should have won there. Shite finish.
PK: The ripped shirt?
PK: Then you’re pissed that reporters keep asking about it.
PK: I was delighted you ripped the shirt. For me it was a positive.
RM: That was another thing at the Ryder Cup — I felt flat. No intensity. I remember speaking to Erica about it: ‘How am I not more up for this?’ It was f**king weird. I feel like after the Ryder Cup I got my fire back, and my intensity back. I was missing that spark, but that spark only comes from believing in yourself.
PK: You start 2022 in January with a tied 12th in Abu Dhabi, and a third place finish behind Victor Hovland in Dubai.
RM: I had a chance in Abu Dhabi but was two or three over for the last five holes. And I should have won in Dubai — hit a fairway wood into the water on 18 when I needed a birdie to win, or a par to go to a play-off.
PK: You had to wait a while before hitting it.
RM: Yeah, that was probably a part of it, and if I have a criticism of the entire year it’s that I haven’t felt that comfortable with fairway woods.
PK: Yeah, Harry [Diamond, his caddie] said that.
RM: I was properly pissed off afterwards. I walked into the locker room with my phone in my hand and f**ked it against the locker. There was a bit of chat going on; people were packing up and getting ready to leave, and it was like a gunshot! The place went completely silent. (Laughs) The phone had a cover but it smashed everywhere and I kept it for a while to remind myself of how shit I felt for not winning that day.
PK: Did you?
PK: Your next event is a tied tenth finish at Riviera in February. There’s a storm brewing about the new Saudi league, LIV Golf, and you make some memorable comments about Phil Mickelson.
PK: Talk to me about Phil. You idolised Tiger as a kid, where did Phil rate?
RM: Phil has always been great to me. His wife, Amy, is lovely, always super nice and cordial, and I always enjoyed Phil. He’s pretty funny in his own way. The first time I met him was at the Barclays Singapore Open in 2009, he was sponsored by Barclays at the time. Then over the years I got, not closer with him, but I spent more time with him through the Ryder Cups and when we were paired together at events. But in terms of where he sat on my radar growing up … obviously a great player, a great, great, golfer, but Tiger was my hero and I never saw Phil as a threat.
PK: What do you mean by threat?
RM: A threat to Tiger’s legacy. I sort of put him in the same boat as Ernie Els — great player, household name, always up there — but the two people I looked up to most as a kid were Tiger and Sergio.
PK: And Sergio?
RM: Yeah, because he burst onto the scene and was exciting and young.
PK: But you’re close to Tiger, who doesn’t like Phil.
RM: And he doesn’t like Sergio either.
PK: And he’s been proven right both times.
PK: You’re clearly a terrible judge of character.
PK: Have you read the [Alan] Shipnuck book (Phil: The Rip-Roaring Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar)?
PK: You read all the time. You love books.
RM: I do love books, but I read enough articles and stuff about golf.
PK: Let’s go back to Riviera. On the Thursday, Shipnuck writes a piece about Mickelson and the Saudi league: “Mickelson said he had enlisted three other ‘top players’ he declined to name … He didn’t pretend to be excited about the prospect of making his professional home in Saudi Arabia, admitting the SGL was nothing more than ‘sportswashing’ by a brutally oppressive regime.”
PK: And you’re asked about it on Sunday after the final round: “I don’t want to kick someone while he’s down obviously, but I thought his comments were naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant.”
PK: You’re a guy who doesn’t like confrontation but you stand up and stick it to him.
PK: So that’s another thing that changed this year.
RM: Yeah, the relighting of the ‘fire’ wasn’t just on the golf course. I’ll take Phil at his word when he says that what he was trying to do was for the benefit of everyone — “a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the way the PGA Tour operates”, I think was the quote. But to use the Saudis to do that was not a good idea. Just not a good idea. And I think the blowback he got was justified.
PK: Okay, so tied tenth at Riviera and you’re happy?
RM: Yeah, you’re not going to win every week, or have a chance, but I was enthusiastic about where my game was.
PK: Then you finish 13th at Bay Hill and tied 33rd at the Players in tough conditions.
RM: I got the bad side of the draw at The Players. I played with Justin Thomas the first two days and his 69 that Saturday afternoon [there were storm delays] was one of the best rounds of golf I think I’ve ever seen … all the shots. It was very impressive.
PK: Then you skip the Match Play and play in San Antonio a week before the Masters.
PK: And miss the cut.
The most interesting thing about McIlroy right now is the extent to which he isn’t Tiger. Despite all the similarities — the big drives and the early successes and the working-class childhood — he’s ended up in the one place Tiger never was: competitive purgatory. Rory can feel like a bit of an afterthought these days, no matter how much any broadcaster might try to sell him to us. Even if he’s rising up the leaderboard, nobody is quaking anymore …
Nearly every year at the Masters he starts slowly. He’s shot in the 60s on a Thursday just twice. Coming into this tournament, he’d been trending in the wrong direction, opening with a 73 in 2019, a 75 in ’20, and a dreadful 76 last year. After that last one he said, “I’m just at the start of a journey here that I know will get me back to where I want to be.”
Those aren’t the scores of somebody who knows he’s on the right path. Those scores are demons.
SI.com, April 8, 2022
PK: You don’t usually play a week before the Masters.
RM: It was different to other years. I wanted to feel sharp going to Augusta, and to maybe take a little pressure off the start of the week there. I mean, you play practice rounds at Augusta and you’re not learning anything new, you’re just re-familiarising yourself with the tee shots and the greens and getting comfortable there again. So I thought, ‘I’ll go there a week before and then play San Antonio.’
PK: You played Augusta on the Monday and Tuesday.
PK: Then you flew to San Antonio and did a press conference on Wednesday:
Q: “Anything specifically regarding your game that you’re really trying to sharpen this week in preparation for the Masters?”
A: “So, off the tee feels really good. Iron play is feeling good. I think just distance control, that’s so important at Augusta.”
PK: What happens Thursday?
RM: (Laughs) The turning point of the year.
PK: Go on.
RM: So, I went to Augusta at the start of the week, and the balls they use on the range there for members are Titleist ProV1s. I started warming up and remember going, ‘Oh! That’s nice.’ And I didn’t really think anything of it but I’d been having a few issues with the ball up until that point.
PK: Your sponsor’s ball, a TaylorMade.
RM: Yeah, the TP5.
PK: Are you compelled to use that?
RM: No, but I’ll always give it a good effort to try and make it work.
PK: What were the issues?
RM: I’d go to the range with a launch monitor [an electronic device that tracks the launch angle, spin-rate and distance] and Harry might say, “Okay, nine iron, hit it 157.” And I’d hit my numbers regularly when conditions were normal. Then I’d be playing somewhere in the wind and I’d hit one approach shot over the green, and the next would be short, and I’d look at Harry: ‘F**k, what is going on?’ San Antonio was the final straw.
PK: It was windy.
RM: Yeah. I went to the TaylorMade guys after the round and said, ‘Look, I’m done with this golf ball. I have no idea if it’s going long or short.’ And they said, “Bob MacIntryre’s in the field this week. He’s playing an older version of your ball. Why don’t you see how you get on with that?” So I hit a bunch of them, the 2019 TP5x, on the Thursday afternoon and the spin rates were a lot more consistent. Then I played with it on Friday and missed the cut, which was a blessing in disguise.
RM: Because it’s a slightly harder ball and I was able to come back and spend two days here with Harry on the range working to bed it in, putting with it, chipping with it, trying to get more comfortable. It was a massive change to make on the eve of Augusta but it ended up being the best thing I did this year. There are some stats on it: before Augusta I was ranked 207th on the PGA Tour from inside 125 yards; and since Augusta I’ve been ranked number one.
PK: (Laughs): The f**king ball!
PK: That is ridiculous.
RM: I know.
PK: Okay, go to Augusta.
RM: So I open up with a 73. Is that correct?
(I reach for my notes to check and find something I intended to ask him about, a Masters preview on si.com.)
PK: Do you read any of this stuff written about you?
PK: Did you read this?
PK: Sorry, keep going. You open with a 73. You said, “encouraged with how I played. I’ve just got to try and get more out of the round tomorrow.” It was windy, wasn’t it?
RM: Yeah, it was pretty breezy. I think I was two-over through two days, and I think Scheffler might have been 10-under?
PK: He was eight-under, you were 10 behind.
RM: Yeah, I remember thinking: ‘That’s unbelievable playing in those conditions.’ So I was doing okay, two solid-enough days. Then it was really cold and blustery on Saturday, the toughest day of the week, and I think I shot a 71?
PK: Yes you did.
RM: I hit a five wood into the 15th — a proper golf shot — and remember saying to Harry, ‘I couldn’t have done that with the other ball (laughs).’ So yeah, really proud and really pleased on Saturday. I think it was one of the best scores of the day, and it got me from being middle-of-the-pack to the top 10 going into Sunday.
PK: Eight shots back.
RM: Yeah, Scottie had a big lead, and I didn’t feel I had a chance, but it was an opportunity to shoot a good score and have a good finish.
PK: It was your best ever round at Augusta.
RM: Yeah, a 64, played great. I started well, kept it going and caught fire a little around the turn. Then I held an eagle putt on 13 and thought I might have a chance. The leaders still had to play Amen Corner and it was playing tricky enough. Then all sorts of things enter your head. You think about Charles Schwartzel birdying the last four holes in ’11 and the symbolism if I were to do it, all that sort of stuff. But I missed three tee shots left on 14, 15 and 17, but, yeah, I thought for a brief moment I had a chance, which was exhilarating, because I hadn’t felt that way at Augusta for a long time.
PK: Exhilarating is an interesting word.
PK: And you said some interesting things afterwards: “That’s as happy as I’ve been on a golf course right there.”
PK: “I think this day will stand to me not just in Masters in the next few years but also just for my career going forward.”
PK: And you were right. It set you up for the year.
RM: But you never know. It’s the heat of the moment, and you’re happy and you’re excited, and you’re saying things, but I really thought it was a breakthrough for me. You know, all of the years coming away from Augusta feeling disappointed or dejected or whatever. I came away from Augusta happy, and happiness comes in different shapes and forms but I thought, ‘That was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had on a golf course.’
Rory McIlroy couldn’t resist taking a pop at Greg Norman after edging ahead of the Australian in the PGA Tour title standings as he landed a second successive RBC Canadian Open. The Northern Irishman held off Justin Thomas and Tony Finau in a thrilling last-day battle to come out on top at St George’s Golf & Country Club in Toronto.
It was his 21st victory on the PGA Tour and moved him into a tie for 31st place on the all-time PGA Tour wins list. “And one more than Norman,” pointed out McIlroy right at the start of his press conference as he took dead aim at the LIV Golf CEO and commissioner.
McIlroy’s latest success had come just 24 hours after the conclusion of the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational Series event, won by South African Charl Schwartzel at Centurion Club near St Albans. Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson both played in that and they are set to be joined in the next event in Portland by Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed after they became the latest LIV Golf recruits over the past few days.
McIlroy, who sits on the PGA Tour’s Player Advisory Council, has been outspoken about the breakaway series and, no matter how much money might be thrown at him, is unlikely to ever be swayed by the Saudis.
The Scotsman, June 13, 2022
PK: You take three weeks off after the Masters and resume with a fifth at the Wells Fargo Championship in Washington, an eighth at the PGA Championship in Tulsa, and a tied 18th at the Memorial before travelling to Toronto for the Canadian Open.
PK: That’s also the week of the first LIV event and the fortunes being paid to those who defect is dominating every press conference. You’re asked about it in Toronto on the eve of the tournament: “I was speaking to a few people yesterday,” you said, “and one of the comments was that any decision you make in your life that’s purely for money usually doesn’t end well.”
PK: Have you seen King Richard, the film about the Williams sisters?
PK: There’s a scene where Venus is about to turn pro and an agent calls to their home and offers her $3m to sign with Nike. Now she eventually signs for $12m with Reebok but I thought of you. When was the first time ‘real money’ was put in front of Rory?
RM: It was never put in front of me the way it was with Venus. When I turned pro I had a Jumeriah deal, a Titleist deal, Neil Hughes and FL Partners, Bennett [Construction], Lough Erne … small deals that were going to cover my expenses and maybe a bit more.
PK: You turned pro at the British Masters in September 2007.
PK: A tied 42nd finish behind Lee Westwood.
RM: Yeah, then I finished third at the Dunhill and fourth in Madrid. I was 18 years old and remember being in Belfast a week later. I didn’t have a credit card, but had been given a debit card for cash. I put it into an ATM and hit ‘Check Balance’ and there was about 250 grand in the account. I was like, ‘Holy shit!’ I had no clue about money. When I turned pro it was the last thing on my mind. And that’s part of the reason I’ve been so hard on LIV and the guaranteed money. I had sponsors and did okay but there was no guaranteed money. I had to go out and earn it.
PK: The question was real money.
RM: I’d say the first time I felt I made real, real, money was after the US Open in 2011 — that definitely put me in a different stratosphere. We’re talking £10m or whatever it was.
PK: Ten million?
RM: Yeah, I paid over five million in tax to the HMRC that year, and that’s why I moved offshore.
PK: When was the Nike deal?
RM: The conversation with them started around August of 2012.
PK: “Terms of the deal were not released but several reports have said it is in the neighbourhood of $200m to $250m over 10 years.”
RM: The first deal was five years and about half that number.
PK: So were talking $100m to $150m.
RM: Over a five-year period, and that was five years into my career.
PK: When you already had two Majors?
RM: Yeah. The other thing about the Nike deal was that it was something I had my heart set on; I idolised Tiger and loved the athletes there — Sampras, Agassi, Nadal, Federer. But yeah, that was the first instance where that that sort of money was put in front of me.
PK: And what does it do to you? You grew up in a small house in Hollywood; your parents worked night and day to keep you clothed and fed. What happens when you’re earning that sort of money?
RM: Well, one thing I remember is feeling pressure to prove I was worth it, that’s probably why I struggled at the front end of 2013.
PK: No, that’s not what I’m scraping at …
RM: I think I’ve always had a pretty good relationship with money. I know the value if it. I saw how hard my mum and dad had to work. I know it doesn’t change your life in the way you think it will. I still use the same brand of toothpaste. I still brush my teeth in the morning like every other person …
PK: It’s not gilded toilet roll now?
RM: It’s whatever Erica gets [laughs] … but you know what I mean? I tried to explain this recently to a player who has been on the fence about going to LIV. I said, ‘I may live in a bigger house nowadays but I still use the same four rooms. I don’t do anything differently. And maybe the surroundings or whatever are nicer, but tell me what this money is going to do for you that you don’t already do?’
PK: How much is enough? That’s the question.
RM: I remember sitting down with Philip Barker, my financial manager at Doral in 2012. I was 22 years old and he said, “Okay, we need to set some goals. This is where you are now, where do you want to be when you’re 30?” So we came up with a number and I said, “If I were to get to that, that’s me and my kids and their kids sorted. I won’t have a worry in the world.” I hit the number at 25. So we reassessed and came up with another number to hit when I was 30. I hit that number at 27. And it gets to a point where … when is enough, enough?
PK: I guess it depends on the goal. Surely the only goal in life is to be happy?
RM: Exactly, and do you think I was thinking about how much money I had on the Saturday night of the Ryder Cup? No, of course not. Was I consoling myself with the cheque I made at the Open when I didn’t win the Claret Jug? No, I was distraught. Because that’s not why you play, it’s a sport, and I think with all of this shite that’s gone on this year that people have lost sight of that.
PK: Go back to Toronto. You’re leading after the third round and there’s a question at your press conference: “With everything that’s gone on in the golf world this week, is there anything that would make a win tomorrow feel sweeter or perhaps more significant?” And you say, “Not necessarily.”
RM: Yeah, but I’m not going to buy into that narrative on the eve of the final round.
PK: (Laughs) Sure, but what are the first words out of your mouth the next day? A swipe at Greg Norman!
RM: Okay, so this goes back to some comments I made in 2020 when I was asked about the PGL [another breakaway tour] and the conflict that was brewing. I said, ‘I want to be on the right side of history with this one, the way Arnold [Palmer] was in the ‘90s with the whole Greg Norman thing.’
PK: This was Norman’s bid to start a World Tour?
RM: Yeah. I didn’t say anything derogatory about Greg at all, just ‘this happened in ’94 and Arnold Palmer stood up for the rest of the membership.’ Anyway, he wasn’t happy, and we had a pretty testy back-and-forth and he was very condescending, “Maybe one day you’ll understand,” and all this shite.
RM: Fast-forward to this year and a week after Augusta there’s a documentary about him on ESPN, Shark, about his loss in ’96. So I watched it and was really moved and thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to send him a message.’ So I did: ‘Greg, I just watched your documentary on ESPN. I thought it was fantastic. It must have been very tough to do that. Hopefully it reminds everyone of what a great golfer you were.’ There was another thing. When I lost or had my meltdown at Augusta in 2011, Greg had sent a lovely message and been really helpful to me.
PK: Yes, I remember you talking about that before.
RM: Yeah, he was great. So I said to him, ‘Watching it reminded me of how you reached out to me in 2011, and I just want to say that I’ll always appreciate it. It meant a lot. I know our opinion on the game of golf right now is very different, but I just wanted you to know that and wish you all the best.’ So, a bit of an olive branch, and he came back to me straightaway: “I really think golf can be a force for good around the world … Great to see you playing so well … I know our opinions are not aligned but I’m just trying to create more opportunities for every golfer around the world.” Fine. Really nice. Then, a couple of weeks later, he does an interview with The Washington Post and says I’ve been “brainwashed by the PGA Tour.” I’m like ‘For f**k sake!’ We’ve had this really nice back-and-forth and he says that about me. I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to make it my business now to be as much of a pain in his arse as possible.’
PK: (laughs) That sounds fair.
RM: And that’s basically what I’ve done since.
PK: Doesn’t he live around here?
RM: Yeah, he lives in Old Palm.
PK: Do you ever bump into him?
RM: Never. Actually, there’s this lovely little farm in Jupiter, a thing they created for kids, and the last time we were there with Poppy I met his daughter, Morgan.
PK: Wasn’t she going out with Sergio at one stage?
RM: She was.
PK: Funny old world.
RM: Yeah, so as much as I’m anti-LIV, I feel the PGA Tour have got lucky that Greg Norman has fronted this up. I think if they had found someone less polarising, LIV could have made more inroads.
PK: When did you find out Sergio had gone to LIV?
RM: Basically the week that he berated the rules official at the Wells Fargo in May.
PK: How did you find out?
RM: (Laughs) He said to me on the range that he’d gotten a new plane, and that if I wanted a ride with him to that first LIV event in London I was welcome.
PK: (Laughs) For f**k sake.
PK: How did you react?
RM: I didn’t know what he was talking about. When he left I turned to Harry and said, ‘What was he on about there?’ I didn’t get the whole London thing. And Harry said, “The first LIV event is in London.” It literally didn’t even register with me.
PK: When did your relationship sour?
RM: On the Friday of the US Open [a week after Canada]. I woke up to a text that was sent at 5.30 that morning. He had an early tee time, I didn’t, and I woke up to this text basically telling me to shut up about LIV, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I was pretty offended and sent him back a couple of daggers and that was it.
PK: You’ve spoken of your sense of betrayal.
PK: And it really hurt.
RM: I don’t know why I felt so strongly about it. I talked to a few people, ‘Why does this bother me so much? It shouldn’t bother me as much as it does.’
PK: It didn’t bother you when Graeme [McDowell] went?
RM: I understood his position. He’s not that old. It’s a long time until the Champions Tour. It was a pathway to make more money without putting in the same work. I get that. Poulter? Westwood? GMac? Richard Bland? I understand. What I don’t understand is when they moan about the consequences, because they knew what the consequences were when they signed up.
PK: So you understand their position?
PK: And if you were in that position?
RM: I’m not.
PK: But if you were?
RM: If it was a choice between an extra $20m or $30m and a great legacy — the chance to be a Ryder Cup captain — I would take the Ryder Cup captaincy every day of the week, because these boys aren’t on the breadline.
RM: All I’ve wanted to do in golf is be the best version of myself; to get the best out of myself; to compare myself to the greats and those I’ve looked up to growing up. The people who have gone to LIV have given all that up, not Westwood or GMac, because they’ve played at the highest level, but some of these younger guys. I actually feel sorry for them. I feel sorry that they’ll never know — and maybe this will change — but they’ll never know how good they can be. And to me that’s the fundamental essence of playing a competitive sport.
For the next 30 minutes, Woods let loose. He fielded questions on his injured leg, on LIV, on the future of the game. He took shots at Greg Norman. He clarified his stance on golf carts. He explained his schedule. And he reminded us that this chapter of his career will have as much to do with shaping the game’s future as it will his actual on-course participation …
Perhaps Woods’ kindest words were for McIlroy. The two have worked side by side on the Tour’s future and several add-on ventures. He was impressed with McIlroy’s ability to lead and win at the same time.
“What Rory has said and done is what leaders do,” he said. “Rory is a true leader out here on Tour. The fact that he’s actually able to get the things he said out in the public eye, be so clear-minded with it and so eloquent with it, meanwhile go out there and win golf tournaments on top of that? People have no idea how hard that is to do, to be able to separate those two things.
“But he’s been fantastic. He’s a great leader in our calls we make and he’s a great leader with all the players out here. Everyone respects him and they respect him not just because of his ball-striking, his driving, but the person he is.”
Golf.com, November 29, 2022
PK: Enough LIV, back to the game. You win the Canadian Open, go tied fifth at the US Open, tied 19th at the Travellers Championship and finish third at the Open. Then you take three weeks off. I thought you flew back to the US but you were in London.
RM: We rented a place in Sunningdale and spent a ton of time walking in Windsor Great Park, Savile Garden … gorgeous, a beautiful part of the world, just Erica, me and Poppy.
PK: Then back to Memphis for the first of the play-offs?
RM: I had a week here before going to Memphis. Michael [Bannon, his coach] came in — I didn’t hit a shot in London — and we did some good work, but it’s always a struggle to put it in play the first week back. I didn’t play terribly in Memphis, but didn’t play great either, and missed the cut by one. But again, like San Antonio, it was a mixed blessing. I was able to get to Delaware [BMW Championship] early and practice on a course no one had seen before. So things turned around for me that week [tied eighth] and it set me up for the Tour Championship.
PK: You’re six shots behind Scottie Scheffler going into the final round.
RM: We both didn’t get off to great starts, bogeyed the first hole, then I rattled off four birdies in the next five holes. And Scottie made a couple of bogeys, so from being six behind, we’re all square on the eighth tee. And now it’s not just game on, but I’m the favourite to win. Scottie has the momentum going against him, you can see he’s struggling a bit, and for me it’s just a matter of keeping the pressure on him. It’s probably one of the first times I felt my presence made a difference. I’d never really felt like that before.
PK: Which is ridiculous.
PK: It’s ridiculous that you’ve never felt that way before.
RM: I don’t know, I guess I’m now at an age where I’m a bit older than these guys and they maybe looked up to me one time.
PK: There’s another factor that may explain it. You are now the chosen one of The Chosen One.
PK: He was your hero, then your friend, but it’s more than that now. It’s almost like he’s said, ‘Rory is my guy. I’m taking him on board.’
RM: Yeah, I don’t know, we’ve a great relationship, but golf is not going to have another Tiger Woods for a long time.
PK: I’m serious, you’re the chosen one of The Chosen One. He’s handing you the torch.
RM: Yeah … I think … I love the fact that I can call him up and we can have a chat, we toured a golf course together last week, and we’ve become pretty close over the last number of years, but especially I would say after the crash.
PK: His car accident?
RM: Yeah, I went to visit him a month or six weeks after, a lot of guys did, and I think he appreciated that we all sort of reached out to him, and then … I don’t know, for whatever reason he reached out to me. “Look, I think I can help you. You should be winning three or four times a year. You know where I am if you want to catch up on a few things.”
PK: When did he offer to help?
RM: Before the Ryder Cup.
PK: Did he?
RM: Yeah. He said, “I think I can show you a few things I’ve learned over the years that will help you.”
PK: Give me the chronology.
RM: I’m not good on chronology.
PK: You said it was after the crash you got especially close?
PK: The crash was on February 23, 2021, four days after you missed the cut at Riviera. How did you hear about it?
RM: Through the media like everyone else. We were at the Concession in Florida for the WGC and word started to ripple through the range, and through the clubhouse, that Tiger had been in a really bad car crash.
PK: You spoke to the press a day later.
Q: “We’ve all seen the terrible news about Tiger, but also the good news, that it’s not life threatening. He’s had the operation, et cetera.”
Q: “Of all people, is he the one person who can come back from this, do you think?”
A: “He’s not superman.”
A great answer to a stupid f**king question.
RM: The thing was, you know, he had just had another back operation. He didn’t play in Riviera, he was hosting, because he was getting over a surgery, so it was like … How many hits can a guy take? So that was the context of that ‘Superman’ comment. I think some members of the media just see Tiger as Tiger — this all-dominating golfer and athlete. They don’t see Tiger the person. They don’t see him in the private moments with his children. I think I said at that press conference, “Let’s just be thoughtful here that two kids still have their dad. That’s the most important thing.” And just trying to humanise it, and to humanise him, because for so long it was hard for people to do that.
PK: Two months later you’re giving a press conference at the Masters and tell a story about visiting him at home. “I spent a couple of hours with him, which was nice, and in his family room he’s got his trophy cabinet, and it’s his 15 Major trophies. I said, ‘That’s really cool. Where are all the others?’ He said, ‘I don’t know.’ I go, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Yeah, my mom has some, and a few are in the office, and a few are wherever.’”
RM: (Laughs) Yeah.
PK: This is probably a stupid question but was that your first time at his home?
PK: Okay, that makes sense. I was trying to tease out what you meant by “especially close after the crash.” Did he invite you to come over or did you invite yourself?
RM: I asked. I said, “Look, whenever you’re accepting visitors I’d love to come and see you and say hello.” I wouldn’t force myself on anyone, let alone someone I thought so highly of, but I just thought that if there was an opportunity to spend time with him, it would be the right thing to do.
PK: It’s a tough summer for you. You’re struggling with your game. He reaches out to you before the Ryder Cup.
RM: September 2. He sent me a text: “I would love to sit down on the range and run something by you that will make controlling your wedges easier after the Ryder Cup.”
PK: You’re in Atlanta that day for the first round of the Tour Championship. You shoot a 68. I’m just wondering what prompted him?
RM: He was probably watching it at home.
PK: When did you get together?
RM: It didn’t happen for a while. It didn’t happen until this year. I went over to his house and Charlie was there, and we started practicing and ... talk about The Chosen One; some of the stuff Tiger can do with a golf ball is insane! His hands, body awareness, and he showed me some shots. I remember going to Bay Hill and telling Harry about it: “Wait till I show you this.”
PK: Let’s revisit the chronology: Tiger sent you the text in September and Bay Hill was in March, is that right?
RM: That is right.
PK: (Laughs) Why did it take you six f**king months to go and see him?
RM: I think at this point you know, I like figuring it out for myself. I always have. And it wasn’t just ... I’ve learned a ton from Tiger over the years, not just that day but just chatting with him in locker rooms and picking his brain. But I still need to make it my own. I’ve always needed to make it my own idea (laughs), and I know that’s how I work best.
PK: (Laughs) Even when it’s Tiger?
PK: That is so good.
RM: I’ve never been one to go and seek advice. I’ve always felt I was able to do it on my own, and maybe that’s a negative part of my personality but I’ve always been able to figure it out in the end. It may take me a while to get there, but at least when I get there I know that I’ve been through the process and in complete ownership of those feelings and of those thoughts.
Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm each left Dubai feeling as good as ever — even if those outside the competitive arena kept wanting to see more, more, more. At the DP World Tour’s season-ending event, McIlroy became the first to capture the top prizes on the PGA and European tours while also being the No 1-ranked player in the world.
It’s a remarkable achievement that speaks to McIlroy’s level of consistency over the past seven months; as caddie Harry Diamond said: “A long way from San Antonio.” It was a reference to their missed cut on the eve of the Masters, when McIlroy was searching for answers. All he’s done since is win three times and finish worse than 18th just once.
“I don’t think I played as consistent in my career as I’m doing right now,” he said.
Even though McIlroy finished eighth or better in all four Majors, some will undoubtedly view his 2022 as a missed opportunity, especially considering he shared the 54-hole lead at the St Andrews Open. On the final day McIlroy flatlined with a closing 70 and could only watch as Cam Smith zoomed past him for the Claret Jug. But throughout this eight-year Major-less drought, McIlroy has preached perspective and the value of improvement, and he put that crushing disappointment behind him, not just chasing down Scottie Scheffler for the FedEx Cup title but then turning his attention to Europe and also claiming the Race to Dubai, despite not winning a DP World title this year.
“I’ve been a pro now for over 15 years,” he said, “and to still try to figure out ways to try to accomplish new things — that’s what keeps me coming back.”
Golfchannel.com, November 21, 2022
PK: One of the standout moments of the year for me was at the PGA Championships in Tulsa. It was Wednesday afternoon and you walked into the media centre with Poppy in your arms along a corridor adorned with posters of former champions. She pointed to a shot of Collin Morikowa and said “dada”. And you said, “No, that’s not dada, that’s Collin.” Then you pointed to the one alongside — a shot taken of you in Kiawah or Valhalla: “That’s when daddy was still good.”
RM: (Laughs) Yeah, obviously said in jest.
PK: You were being shadowed by a couple of journalists.
RM: Yeah, I think it was a picture of Valhalla in 2014, so it’s been a long eight years. I’ve had chances and I’ve come close but I just haven’t gotten over the line. And whenever you say things in jest, it’s probably closer to the truth than you want it to be.
PK: Many a true word ...
RM: Yeah, and it’s not that I believe that ...
PK: But you’re not unaware of it?
RM: No, I’m not. I’m not unaware of it. I feel it. My last Major championship was before Erica and I started going out; it was before my ankle injury and my back injury; it was before so many things that are now a part of my life. I’m almost a different person. And I’ve been reflecting on this for the last couple of months and I think that’s a good thing. I feel like I’m trying to win my first Major again, and there’s an enthusiasm and a fire about the chase again.
PK: Which is not to say it doesn’t hurt when you come up short, because it hurt in Tulsa.
RM: Yeah, that was a real chance.
PK: And your frustration was obvious; you came in, signed your card and walked straight to your car. No media.
RM: Yeah, Michael Bamberger didn’t take that well.
PK: You read his stuff?
PK: He wrote a very good piece about it, made some great points about the Majors.
RM: I agree.
PK: Here it is: “Things are out of whack in professional men’s golf and they have been for a while. Ever since Tiger Woods came on the scene a quarter-century ago, the elite player’s mindset can be captured in two mantras: Majors, the Majors, the Majors; Gotta win ‘em, gotta win ‘em, gotta win ‘em.”
PK: And this: “All this emphasis on the Majors — and I am as guilty as anyone who watches from the wrong side of the rope line — has created a lot of emotional upheaval. This is easy for me to say but by putting so much emphasis on four weeks a year, the golfer’s life, or at least his professional life, is out of balance.”
RM: I agree with Michael. It started with Jack. Jack targeted the Majors, the media bought into it, and the four Majors became this massive deal. Tiger came along, wanted to beat Jack’s record, the media built it up and it became even bigger. Like, the hype around the Majors compared to other events is just insane. And I’ve said this before; if professional golf becomes just about four weeks a year we’re in trouble. We need to be relevant more times than four a year. It needs to be more than that.
PK: Not for Tiger, Majors only, you’ve seen his trophy cabinet.
RM: (Laughs): And you can see mine (nods towards the lustrous shelves in the corner) but they’re among other things because they’re all important to me. It’s the body of work. And that’s the thing I’m proudest of this year — the body of work.
PK: You’re reminding me of something Shane [Lowry] said this year. Sunday at the Masters, he’s out in the penultimate group, and one under for the round when he triples the fouth. Then he starts fighting back.
RM: Yeah, unbelievable to come back from that.
PK: He pars the fifth, birdies the sixth, then he sees your name on the leaderboard. “I wanted to catch him,” he laughed. “The little f**ker.”
PK: That’s the quote of the year right there. Was there a leaderboard you weren’t on this year? I had to laugh, you win the Tour Championship and finish second to Shane at Wentworth, fourth at the Italian Open, and fourth at the Dunhill. These are the headlines the morning after the Dunhill: ‘McIlroy comes up shy again’ in the Irish Independent; ‘Rory comes up just short again’ in the Daily Mail; and ‘McIlroy comes up short’ in The Irish Times. That must drive you f**king insane.
RM: No, it does not drive me insane. Ultimately, people are quick to judge and make comments and have opinions based on very little information. That’s the way of the world. The only person that’s going to make me feel bad about myself, or good about myself, is me. Someone says, ‘Oh, well, he hasn’t won a Major in eight years,’ and factually that’s correct, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t tell you what I have won. I read a great book recently called The Gap and the Gain.
PK: Who wrote it?
RM: Dan Sullivan.
PK: Where did you get it?
RM: It was sent to me randomly from a guy in Rhode Island.
PK: How does anyone randomly send a book to Rory McIlroy?
PK: Sorry, what’s it about?
RM: The subtitle is, ‘The High Achiever’s Guide to Success and Happiness,’ or something like that. It’s about choice; do you measure yourself in the gap, or measure yourself in the gain? By all the things you’ve done, or by all the things you haven’t done? People who measure themselves in the gap say, “I haven’t done that. I’d love to do this. We have to keep going.” But if you measure yourself in the gain you say, “Look how far I’ve come. Look what I’ve achieved.” I’m thinking of moments like the Champions Celebration at St Andrews, walking up the 18th with Tiger, pointing to the window of Rusacks and seeing Erica and Poppy waving out. I’ve got Harry beside me, I’ve got my wife, my daughter, my mum and dad. I’m walking with my hero at St Andrews — that’s a pinch-yourself moment.
PK: It certainly is. Talk to me about Shane. You’ve described him several times this year as “one of my best friends” and that’s interesting, because I never had the impression you were close initially?
RM: I would say very close early on, not-so-close in the middle, and closer than ever now.
PK: What happened in the middle?
RM: Okay, so, I’d been a pro for two years when Shane won the Irish Open.
PK: And you’re there?
RM: I’m there for the whole thing. It’s brilliant. Unbelievable. Then he turned pro and won in Portugal the next year, or the year after, and we’re being managed by the same person [Conor Ridge], in the same agency [Horizon Sports]. So, super close at that point. Then I had a fall-out with Horizon in 2013 and it got a bit messy for a couple of years, not because one of us had done wrong to the other, but because of the circumstances.
PK: He was still with Horizon?
PK: And you were fighting them?
PK: When was that sorted?
RM: February 2015. Then Shane won in Akron and I reached out to him. The BBC Sports Personality of the Year was in Belfast that year, and we went for a few drinks afterwards and had a really good chat. We were playing different schedules at the time. I was here, he was predominantly in Europe, and [we] didn’t see each other that often. So it’s really since he started playing here that we’ve got close again. Erica and Wendy [Shane’s wife] get on great, and our kids are a similar age. And I met Conor Ridge after Shane won the Open and shook his hand. Bad things were said on both sides but we’ve moved on. It’s all good. And do you know what it was over?
RM: Money, exactly. It is the root of all evil.
PK: Give me one moment from the year.
RM: The final day at Augusta. That bunker shot. I signed my card and was whisked away by the green jackets to see how Scottie Scheffler was going to finish. And it felt ... different. I always try to look at the positives and that was a hugely positive moment for me. I didn’t win, but I left Augusta feeling I had won something. I’d won a battle that I was having with myself.