NEW CLUBS NEW WIFE NEW SWING NEW GOALS
With a new swing, new clubs and a new wife, Rory McIlroy sat down with Golf World to discuss where his life and career go from here.
After great success in his first decade on tour, 2017 has so far been a year of transition for Rory McIlroy. In an exclusive interview for Golf World, Brian Wacker talked to the Northern Irishman about where his life and career go from here.
September 18th, 2007 will forever be marked in history as the day Rory McIlroy, the wee lad with the long curly locks, big drives and even larger expectations, turned professional.
It was the eve of the British Masters, and the Ulsterman would go on to finish in two-over 290 to tie for 42nd that week. The following month, however, is when McIlroy showed flashes of future success, finishing third at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship before a tie for fourth the next week at the Madrid Open secured his European Tour card for the following season.
A decade later, he’s shed the baby fat, married a blonde American (Erica Stoll is the former PGA of America employee who rescued him from missing his tee time at the 2012 Ryder Cup), been world number one for a total of 95 weeks and racked up 22 wins around the world, including four major championships.
It has been a ‘Roring’ start indeed. But nearly three years removed from his last major triumph (assuming he doesn’t win The Open between this article going to print and landing in your hands) and in the midst of a season where he’s battled injury and changed equipment again, McIlroy has reached a transitional phase in his career. Where will the next 10 years take him? We sat down with the newly-wed and now fit-again world number four to find out.
How is being a married man affecting you personally and professionally? Is there a greater sense of perspective?
Yeah, I had a chance to think about that. It’s going to be 10 years in September that I’m a pro, and I’m sort of looking at it as a 10-year journey. If I look back over 10 years, am I happy with where my career’s at? I would say, yes, I guess. But I definitely feel like I can do better in the next 10 years, 2018 to 2027. You know, I always felt 2017 was going to be a bit of a transitional year, with Nike going out of the golf equipment business and getting married, moving and changing residences and all that sort of stuff, it was always going to be a transitional year. I didn’t factor an injury into that as well. But, yeah, it feels like the first 10 years of my career are nearly over. Not quite yet. It’s still got two majors to play in, so I’d like to finish my first 10 years very well. But I feel from 2017 onwards is my window to do as much as I can to make my mark on the game, to see how many tournaments and majors I can win. This game is what I’ve wanted to do for my whole life, so I’ll always be determined, I’ll always be intense and try to get the most out of my game. I don’t think that will change just because I’m married. My mentality will just be the same. It might help me get over difficult losses a little easier. But I’m in a great place in my life and I feel very settled and very lucky to be in this position. So, yeah, I guess it’s a
bit of a part two of this thing we call a career or journey or job or whatever.
How have your recent injuries affected you and what are you doing to prevent more?
Not at all. I feel good. I feel really good. I feel it’s improving each and every week. I feel better than I felt last week, and last week I felt better than the week before. I think I’m managing it the right way now and concentrating on playing, concentrating on my short game, and not hitting as many balls. I’ll hit balls for maybe 30, 40 minutes maximum, and that’s really it. It’s quality over quantity at this point. If I can get quality practice for those 40 minutes that I hit balls, I should be totally fine. Honestly, I haven’t lifted a weight all year, and it’s tough for me to come out and say I don’t. The most I’ve lifted in the gym is 15 pounds this year because of my injury. I’m nowhere near as strong as I used to be. I’m not. But I don’t need to be. I feel like physically if I’m stable and I’m strong in the right areas, then I’m OK.
How different is your approach to the game now compared to 12 months ago, and say, five years ago?
Golf is such that no one can stick to the exact same routine the whole time because you need to change it up and mix it up. Things get stale and you get tired of stuff. I remember back when I was living in Northern Ireland in 2010 and 2011 and maybe part of 2012, all I would do was see Michael [Bannon] once or twice a week and just practise the other days. I would rarely play. Then I would pitch up at tournaments and I’d be totally fine. I didn’t need to play golf. If I just practised and knew that I was swinging it well then everything else would sort of figure itself out on the course. Over the past couple of years though, it’s gone the other way. If I’m
‘I play more than I practise. It hink I figure stuffout on the course more now than by beating balls’
hitting it great on the range it doesn’t translate on the course, so I need to go out on the course and play. One of the biggest things now is I play more than I practise, because as golfers, that’s what we are. I think I figure stuff out on the course more now than by beating balls.
Do you feel the criticism of your putting is unfair, or is it something you agree with and you’re working to fix?
There are fine lines and there are days you feel really good and some days you don’t. But it’s the days you don’t that you have to make sure they’re not too bad. Everyone’s going to get hot with the putter once in a while, and I’ve proved over the years that I can get hot with it and play well and win tournaments. It’s one of those things, there’s parts of the game that come easy to people and parts of the game people have to work hard at. The swinging of the club and hitting shots is what feels natural to me. The putting just doesn’t. It’s funny, my dad jokes that whenever we hopefully have kids, Erica and I, that one day he said he wants to try to mentor them and make them better than me. I said ‘what do you mean?’ He says, ‘Well, I think I made a few mistakes with you. I’m going to start him on the putting green and work backwards’. So my dad has this Rory 2.0 project in the making. He goes, ‘I started you the wrong way around’. It’s just been one of those things since I was a kid, I always had to work harder at putting than the rest of it. It comes and goes. Not that I’ve accepted it, but it gets to the point where you try to make a putt and if it doesn’t go in there’s no point beating yourself up too much.
Is it harder to win majors now than before the likes of Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson came to prominence a few years ago?
I think so. I think guys have started to play this modern game of golf that we know. If you look at the last few major winners – DJ, Henrik, I mean, Jimmy Walker gets it out there – they all hit it a long way. Sergio and Justin going down the stretch (at the Masters), they don’t hit it short, and most recently Brooks at the US Open. It’s getting to the point where guys are going to hit driver more often. I felt like when you watched Tiger dominate, it was a little more of a conservative game. Nowadays, most guys are saying, ‘OK, I’m going to hit driver, I’m going to get it down there, and I’m going to be aggressive’. And if you’re on that week with the driver, the course becomes so much easier. I think that’s part of the reason. Guys aren’t afraid to be aggressive and to score. I don’t necessarily think it’s gotten harder. It’s always been hard to win a major championship. I just think, as you said, the depth of talent out there is as deep as it’s ever been.
Why do you think the talent pool is so deep these days, around the world?
There are a number of factors. The teaching is better, the knowledge is better. Yeah, there are just more players. I think it comes back to Tiger, too. His biggest impact on the game is the fact there are so many kids now that are trying to make it. It used to be kids used to play golf as a hobby and something to do in the summertime. Now, kids want to play golf to win tournaments and be a professional golfer.
So that’s been a huge impact as well. I mean, you look at this high school class of 2011, you’ve got Jordan, Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger, and all these guys are coming through. So it’s deep out here. It’s great for the game. You might not see a dominant player in the game like we’ve seen in the past, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Obviously, I’d love to try to emulate some of that dominance, but I think in this day and age, it’s a little more difficult.
Do you feel you need to kick on again at this point to keep ahead of the young guns and become one of the greats?
A little maybe. You look at Dustin and the lead he has in the world rankings; he’s far ahead of the rest of us at the minute. I wanted to play a heavy schedule leading up to the Masters and couldn’t. Then I wanted to play a lot this year and it just hasn’t panned out that way. But I’m going to play a lot this summer. I don’t feel like I need to kick on necessarily, but I did miss it when I was injured. When you’re away from it you realise how much you miss it, how much you love it and how lucky you are being able to play this game for a living. But at the end of the day, I’m not worried because it’s a long career ahead and I’m only 28 years old. I still have quite a long way to go, hopefully.
‘When Erica and I hopefully have kids, my dad say she wants to mentor them and make them better than me!’
McIlroy is convinced his next 10 years can be even more successful.
With wife Erica at the Ryder Cup last year.
McIlroy’s dad Gerry has been a driving force.