‘It just takes too much energy’: Rory McIlroy promises not to respond so much to the American public
The American public will not be taken over this time. He doesn’t put his hands behind his ears. He doesn’t put his finger to his lips. No theatrically bowing and saying to the incredulous hecklers, “You’re welcome.”
“It just takes too much energy,” Rory McIlroy says with a laugh.
It was exciting while it lasted and one of the best things about Hazeltine, the last Ryder Cup in the United States in 2016, from a European perspective.
Rory McIlroy has admitted he overreacted to a rowdy American crowd in 2016
“I enjoyed it too, but the problem was I got to the back nine in my singles against Patrick Reed and I hit the wall,” he added.
“You try to keep them out and ignore them, but there are so many emotions associated with the Ryder Cup and last time I ended up reacting instead of thinking purposefully.
‘Now I’ve learned. The best thing is to stay in your little cocoon and do your own business, which is trying to win a point. I am well aware that it will be difficult enough to play against this American team.”
The eve of the Tour Championship in Atlanta and McIlroy was in good spirits playing a practice round with Sergio Garcia, who he will most certainly be working with in Whistling Straits someday.
This will be McIlroy’s sixth Ryder Cup and he hasn’t missed a single session since making his debut at Celtic Manor in 2010.
This will be McIlroy’s sixth Ryder Cup and he hasn’t missed a single session since 2010
The Northern Irishman says a more measured approach to the crowd is needed this year
His importance to Europe’s odds may be greater than ever this time around, with a quarter of the team in their mid-forties and probably no more than one game a day and a few more in obviously sketchy form.
“I think with each passing Ryder Cup it becomes clear that it is getting harder to win on the road so we know there is still work to be done,” he said.
‘Why is home advantage so crucial? There are several factors. The crowd is one and then there is the course setup.
“You saw that last time in Paris, where Thomas had Bjorn set up the course to neutralize their big hitters.
“We know the flags will be in easy positions this time around and the greens will be as fast as they can be because they like to make a lot of birdies.
“But I don’t know if it should be such a big advantage. We all play in America these days, so there’s no reason we couldn’t match them.’
McIlroy hasn’t missed a single Ryder Cup session since his Celtic Manor debut
Nobody talks about Rory’s Ryder Cup record. Not even Rory himself (actually he’s just a few points behind Ian Poulter in the all-time list, having played one game less).
“You know, I have no idea how many points I’ve won over the years,” McIlroy said, between practice putts on one of East Lake’s ultra-smooth greens.
“It’s just not about that. I know I’ve played in five Ryder Cups and we’ve won four.
“I could get five out of five points at Whistling Straits, but I’ll be miserable if we lose. I’ll be delirious with no points on five if we win. That’s all that matters.’
McIlroy doesn’t see his place in the team changing despite Jon Rahm now being the obvious No. 1
This may be his first Ryder Cup since his debut, where he is not clearly the best player in the Europe team. Does he see his role changing, with Spain’s Jon Rahm now the obvious number 1?
‘I do not think so. As for Jon, I was number 1 in the world and played my second Ryder Cup in Medinah in 2012, but I didn’t feel like I was the leader,” he said.
Jon knows the best thing he can do for the team is to go out and play to his maximum potential. Leadership roles evolve.
‘There’s a man there’ [he looks at Sergio] who has played in the Ryder Cup since his teens. He is a leader.
“As for myself, trying to herd a rookie has been something I’ve wanted to include in the last two Ryder Cups, but it never came to victories. First it was Andy Sullivan at Hazeltine and then Thorbjorn Olesen in Paris.
“I felt bad for Thorbjorn because he was dropped and he played better than me. But then I teamed up with Poults and Sergio and we got some points.
McIlroy has accepted that he is more of a reserved character in a team than a vocal leader
“So it’s something I’ve learned that I seem to be one of those players who have to feed the energy instead of giving it.
“I don’t expect to see me with rookies this time around, but that’s up to Padraig and his vice-captains of course. In the end I play with everyone.’
It will be a surprise if Poulter and Sergio are not for Rory again. McIIroy, of course, had a first-place finish at Medinah in 2012 when his dazzling partner finished with five consecutive birdies in their fourballs on Saturday afternoon to win their game and put the wonder in place.
“Seeing Poults in a thrilling way was scary,” Rory recalled. ‘He was in such a zone, nobody would have stopped him that day. It doesn’t get any better than that.’
The next day, the miracle nearly derailed with McIlroy, early in singles, still in bed just 90 minutes before his start time.
Thanks to a police escort, and without a practice swing, he went out that year anyway to defeat American talisman, Keegan Bradley.
McIlroy began to feel that his bond with Pete Cowen was bearing fruit at the Olympics
Without the drama, that’s the McIlroy who wants to see all of Europe in Whistling Straits. Is there enough confidence and faith to make it happen after a curiously patchy year?
McIlroy lets out a deep sigh as we continue to talk about his chaplain’s seasonal egg. “It’s getting better,” he says.
“In March and April I definitely had a hard time, when I was between trying to do things with my swing and trying to figure out what to do.
“Then I got in touch with Pete Cowen and we had a period where we had to match my swing DNA with his coaching philosophy.
“At first it was like my swinging feelings were pushed aside for a while as they should be, while we found a way to combine the two.
“I started to feel more comfortable at the Olympics and it’s been starting to feel more natural ever since.”
The 32-year-old feels happy with his decision to divorce long-time coach Michael Bannon
Was he worried about giving up the only methods he had known under Michael Bannon, the man who had taught him since childhood? “Not really,” he replied.
“It just took a little too long for my taste, where I didn’t feel like I was getting the most out of myself and my game. And I see now that it was a good decision.
“If you look at the stats in areas where I struggled, such as the strokes I’ve had in iron play in general and wedge play in particular, you can see the improvement and the signs that it’s paying off.
“So it’s been a year of transition where I’ve had a win at Quail Hollow and I’ve come up with a few things.
“Look at 2019 where I had 19 top 10s, it certainly hasn’t been a year of consistency like that and I’m trying to get back to that.
“I feel like I’m getting a little bit of momentum now and I think you’ll see that next year.”
Following the Ryder Cup, McIlroy will only play in a few events this Christmas side before starting in Hawaii in January and staying in America until the summer.
McIlroy became the first man to be part of four Ryder Cup-winning teams before the age of 30
By then it will be eight years since he won a major. As a result, in addition to the annual mental burden of trying to complete the Grand Slam career at Augusta, he will also have to contend with all that built-up anxiety.
As so often, he gives an eloquent answer to the question of whether the mental scars are now too great to scale the heights he reached when he won two majors in 2014.
“A few months ago someone said to me that the best sports psychologist in the world is a square clubface at impact,” he said.
“If I get back to where I want to be technically and the confidence that comes from that, believe me, the mental side will come.”
We finish by returning to the Ryder Cup. In Paris in 2018, he became the first man to appear in four winning teams before the age of 30. Is there anything that can top that this time around?
Now 32, he is done with his answer. “There’s nothing like beating the Americans on American soil,” he says with a smile.