If you haven’t read the candid comments Rory McIlroy made in Dubai about his gut-wrenching back-nine collapse at the Masters, it’s a must-read. I’ve always been amazed and impressed with Rory’s down-to-earth and affable attitude, along with his honest and thoughtful answers (he doesn’t give “Tiger” pressers). No, it’s not an act when you see him on camera. He’s genuine and isn’t afraid to speak his mind even if it sometimes gets him in trouble.
When I first met Rory in person this past March at the Honda Classic, I was shocked at his pleasant and approachable demeanor after making three double-bogeys in three of the last four holes in the third round. He was even-par through 14 and then he reached the treacherous Bear Trap. Usually when a player has a finish like Rory, you steer clear and tread carefully. Even my good friends I’d grown up with wouldn’t have been that friendly. That’s just Rory, though.
I awkwardly tried to make a joke as he recapped the double-bogeys. Later that day, when I admitted to feeling awkward, he reassured me that I didn’t have to worry about that with him. It’s true — whether Rory posts a 63 or 80, he does his best to answer questions patiently and honestly. Which is refreshing, especially from a star like himself. After just a year covering and traveling with the Tour, I noticed that many guys who vowed at the beginning of their rookie years to never change, didn’t keep their word. (GO here for the post I wrote back in March.)
“I have always said I will try to answer questions honestly,” he says. “I don’t want to change that about myself. I think people appreciate that about me.”
No doubt. I know he’s still young and there’s plenty of time for him to become jaded, but I don’t believe he’ll ever change. At least I hope not because he’s one of the rare guys you’ll run into who won’t give you a PR-y answer.
Back to Rory’s recent comments in Dubai about “The year he grew up.” He confessed he felt like crying after pulling his drive into Rae’s Creek on the 13th, but it wasn’t until he spoke with his parents the following day that he actually wept, according to the Guardian‘s Lawrence Donegan. (Though the US Open champ certainly looked like he was about to break down in tears after three-putting the 12th.)
“I definitely felt like crying because the drive on the 13th was the one that took all my chances away,” he says. “But I didn’t actually cry until the next morning, when I spoke to my mum and dad. I spoke to them before I went to the airport on the Monday. My mum might have said something like: ‘Oh don’t worry Rory, everything will be OK,’ and I just blubbed back: ‘No, it won’t be OK!’ It was one of those things. There were so many thoughts and emotions going through my head. At the time it felt like the only chance I would have of winning at Augusta and I blew it.
“When did I last cry over golf? I dunno – when I was kid, probably. It’s not worth crying over, is it? It’s only a game.”
“On that Sunday of the Masters I remember turning on ESPN to find people talking about me. I switched over to the Golf Channel and people were talking about me. It was hard to escape. Greg Norman said something to me afterwards that stuck; that any outside influence you let into your bubble can be detrimental, even if it’s just an article in a newspaper. You have to have a lot of self-discipline not to read and watch anything about yourself but that’s what I will try to do from now on.”
“Part of the motivation I had [at the US Open] was trying to prove something to myself, that I wasn’t one of those players who crumbles under the pressure, who folds, or chokes. I hate using the word choke but that’s exactly what happened at the Masters. I also wanted to prove people wrong, whether it was the media or just critics in general. I wanted to show them that the person they saw on Sunday at Augusta was not the real Rory McIlroy.”
Yes, he used the “C” word, one that most pros would never dare utter. He can admit to mistakes off the golf course, too:
Regrets? He had few this year but almost too few to mention. “Probably what I said to Jay Townsend,” he concedes. “I got a bit carried away there. I would have still have had a go at him but I would have phrased it differently. But overall I feel the decisions I have made have been good for me.”
And then there’s his relationship with Caroline Wozniacki, the women’s world No. 1 tennis player. The two superstars started dating not long after McIlroy won the U.S. Open. Rory isn’t afraid to express his feelings for her, whereas many guys wouldn’t admit to the same in public.
“This is going to sound cheesy, but meeting Caroline is probably the best thing that’s happened to me off the course,” he says without embarrassment. “It’s nice to go out with someone who shares your sense of ambition. A tennis career is much shorter so they have to put everything into it. She definitely works harder than I do, and that has been a great influence on my career.”
Don’t ever change, Rory. Please. We need more stars like you.