Rory McIlroy served goat’s cheese and beet root salad and Irish tenderloin, along with toffee pudding for dessert, at the annual champions’ dinner to his fellow PGA Championship winners on Tuesday evening at Oak Hill.
“To see all those past champions in the room, and a lot of them turned up for the dinner, really, it was cool,” said the 24-year-old from Northern Ireland. “I had a good friend of mine, Harry Diamond, with me, which was cool. He got to meet a few guys that he’s never met before, like Tiger, and Phil sat beside us; it was very cool.
“You have the most recent PGA champions like myself, Keegan Bradley, Martin Kaymer and then you have someone like Doug Ford who it was his 91St birthday yesterday so you have that spectrum of guys. It’s unbelievable and it was the same when I went to the U.S. Open Past Champions Dinner at Merion. You have guys like Billy Casper or Lee Trevino and myself or Webb Simpson; it’s so cool to see the span, the length of time.”
It’s no secret McIlroy has struggled this season. Most recently, he missed his fifth cut of 2013 at the Open Championship. While he has four top-tens, the rest of his finishes have been rather mediocre for the world no. 3. He’s Rory McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open Champion and 2012 PGA Champ — not a field filler.
Last season Rory went through a mini-slump in the first half of the year, including an MC at the U.S. Open at Olympic, where he was defending his title. He kept insisting his game was coming around and then he had a strong weekend at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, placing fifth, which turned out to be a massive boost for his confidence. And then, of course, the following week Rory went on to blow away the field by eight shots to capture his second major title.
McIlroy hoped to use last week’s WGC to jumpstart his game again for the final major of the year, but unfortunately, he didn’t have the results he wanted, placing T27.
“I was sort of in this position coming into this tournament last year in a way,” said Rory. “I was coming off a fifth place in Akron, but the run of events before that wasn’t so good. So obviously, yeah, you never hope to struggle or not to play well, but it’s going to happen. It’s inevitable.
“I’ve taken a few things away from this year, and you know, there’s been I think there’s been times where I’ve thought about my swing a little bit too much, and that’s prevented me from playing the way I want to play, which is that carefree, free-flowing game that I usually have, and just not get too down on myself. That’s the thing, there’s been times this year where I’ve really gotten down on myself and that’s something that hasn’t helped at all, and something that I’m trying to get better at.
To prepare for the defense of his title, Rory has been watching videos of his dominating victory last year at Kiawah. And what has he gleaned? Well, first of all, he’s noticed his body language.
“It’s body language, it’s how you carry yourself, it’s all that sort of stuff, your little mannerisms,” he said. “I guess it’s just trying to just remember those feelings and remember how I felt that week and trying to carry some of that into this week and just get those good, positive thoughts going.”
On the technical front, Rory said he felt like he was swinging more freely and naturally, rather than perhaps a bit tentatively as he has this year due to a combination of factors ranging from changing equipment manufacturers to swing problems. So, has he finally pinpointed on what’s held him back as of late?
“First and foremost, I just haven’t been swinging it the best this year,” said Rory. “I got into a couple bad habits with my golf swing, and it’s just taken my a little bit longer to get out of them. Obviously when you’re fighting that so much, it’s hard to play the golf that I want to play, which is fluid, which is free-flowing, I guess. That’s the way I play my best.
“Trying to work on my swing so much this year has not allowed me to do that, just because I’ve been trying to get the club in the right position to enable me to get the club in the right positions that I know I can play. There’s been that, and I guess just every time you play and you don’t play well, it sort of chips away at your confidence a little bit, and it’s just about building that back up. But I’m sitting here as confident as I have been all year, so I’m looking forward to getting going this week.”
Now, Rory has received criticism for a variety of things from his equipment change to his girlfriend to the mess with his management company, but given his stature in the game, it comes along with the territory.
Earlier on Wednesday, the outspoken Englishman said the media should lay off Rory and “give him a break.” A reporter brought this to Rory’s attention and asked if he agreed. The back-and-forth was quite good, so I’ll just copy and paste it…
Q. Ian Poulter was in here a couple of hours ago, and we were asking him about you, and he said he thought that we should lay off you. Do you feel we should lay off you?
RORY McILROY: I don’t know, I mean, it’s I’d definitely rather be up here talking about more positive things, but I guess that’s the way it is.
Should you lay off me? That’s not for me to decide. That’s not I’m here and I’m answering your questions and that’s all I can do. Yeah, as I said, it would be nicer just to sit up here, talk about some more positive things, but the way this year’s gone, it’s understandable why I’m not.
Q. It’s very nice of you to say it’s not for you to decide, but you’re the only person who can decide whether you think we should lay off you?
RORY McILROY: You’re the only people who can decide whether you lay off me or not, so it’s not my decision. (Laughter).
Q. You can say whether you think we should.
RORY McILROY: No, I think you should do what you want. Ask me the questions that you want to ask (shrugging shoulders).
Q. Linked to that, but you touched on it, a lot of people in a lot of places have had a lot to say in the last eight months about where you’ve gone wrong and why you’ve gone wrong; does that motivate you in a way? Can that help you in that regard?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I love proving people wrong. I loved sitting up here last year on the Sunday night and just being like, I proved a lot of people wrong. Maybe not necessarily in this room, but just people who had their opinions and said things and it was nice to be able to do that.
Yeah, I don’t need any extra motivation to go out and try and play well. I want to try and be the best golfer in the world, and I don’t need any extra motivation than that.
McIlroy will start the defense of his title at 1:25pm at Oak Hill on Thursday. Here’s hoping he can turn it around.