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I raced Rory McIlroy, pro golf’s Peloton King, and won

March 31, 2020

The request seemed harmless enough. Just before logging off from our now-daily GOLF.com video conference call, social media editor Rachel Bleier casually inquired if anyone on our staff happened to own a Peloton bike.

If you’re unfamiliar with the subscription-based indoor exercise bike, it’s all the rage on the PGA Tour at the moment. Rory McIlroy, Billy Horschel, Justin Thomas and others use it as a way to stay in shape and scratch their competitive itch by riding against each other during live at-home classes streamed online.

During these days of self-quarantine and social distancing, it’s one of the few ways you can burn some serious calories without leaving the house — unless you count chasing kids around as “exercise.” But back to Bleier’s request for a second. When no one responded, I figured I was the only staffer who owned one, so I spoke up.

Rachel informed me Thomas and Bubba Watson were hosting a 30-minute Peloton ride Friday morning. Would I be game to tag along and report back on the experience? I obliged.

I’ve owned my Peloton bike for almost three years and use it on a regular basis since I started to curtail long-distance runs to save my knees. (As someone in their mid-30s, I’m sure it’s only downhill from here.) I wouldn’t say I’m in peak physical condition — I don’t diet and still eat and drink whatever I want — but I’m healthy enough to hold my own on the bike whenever I find time to grab a ride.

Also, it’s important to mention there’s a realtime leaderboard on the screen in front of you that shows your position within the pack of riders pedaling along. Some use it as motivation; others, including yours truly, prefer to swipe the board to the side and concentrate on other metrics (cadence, output and resistance) during the ride. It’s all personal preference.

I bring this up because last Friday’s ride wasn’t about topping JT or Bubba on the board. I just wanted to break a sweat and tell my wife I got off the couch for 30 minutes.

And then Rory McIlroy made an appearance.

McIlroy is the Tour’s “Peloton King,” producing output numbers that would make any professional athlete nod their head in approval. Since it was revealed at the Players Championship that he was riding nearly 20 miles at an average pace of 26.3 mph during a recent class, a number of McIlroy’s colleagues have tried to match his eye-popping statistics. But no one has come close to wrestling the crown away from No. 1.

I figured trying to catch McIlroy was a lost cause — like chasing Tiger during the early 2000s. No way in hell it was happening, but it was still worth a shot.

When Friday morning rolled around, I was ready to ride. My Whoop strap — highly recommended if you want to obsess over how your body handles strain, recovery and other health-related variables — told me my body had almost fully recovered from the previous day’s workout, which basically gave me carte blanche to empty the tank. (I probably would have gone all-out even without Whoop’s blessing.)

At just before 9 a.m., I slipped on my cycling shoes, positioned my water bottle within arm’s reach, fired up the Peloton screen and found instructor Alex Toussaint’s 30-minute “Intervals and Arms” class. I was ready to battle the Peloton King.

Go ahead and frame the stats. Our writer's Peloton numbers (L) versus Rory's.
Go ahead and frame the stats. Our writer's Peloton numbers (L) versus Rory's.

I’m not sure if it’s unfortunate or a blessing in disguise, but it’s not possible to get a live feed of friends who happen to be taking the same class. Let’s be honest: no one wants to see their buddy breathing heavily or cursing at the instructor. (I’ve done both more times than I care to remember.) So when Toussaint appeared on my screen, Rory, Justin and Bubba were nowhere to be found.

We were all in the same class, but it was a virtual ride, meaning it’s basically the same thing as a normal class but with major championship winners dotting the leaderboard. You’re free to throw out virtual high-fives (prescient during these times), but there’s no way to trash talk or connect with others. It’s just you, the bike and 10,000-plus faceless Peloton riders.

Even with the goal of trying to catch Rory, I decided to stick to the usual plan and hide the leaderboard. Riding along with the rest of the pack, I started to realize how Peloton fills an important void for ultra-competitive athletes during quarantine. Everyone is here to burn some calories, but if you happen to be riding with some of your buddies on Tour, you best believe you want that virtual win. It’s the only one available these days.

About midway through the ride, I knew I had an outside shot to take down Rors. My numbers were strong as I maintained a steady pace during the arms portion of the ride when most riders will stop pedaling or slow down to lift weights while seated on the bike. Pedaling at a decent clip while lifting weights isn’t advisable, but then again, I’ve done plenty of questionable things during my time on this planet. I was doing whatever I could to keep up with McIlroy, wherever he was on the board. Sweat continued to pour down my forehead and my quads started to burn, but like they tell you about Sunday at Augusta, I wasn’t allowing myself a peek at the leaderboard. Just keep pumping these legs.

With less than one minute to go, I cracked. I decided to cheat and take a look at where I ranked. I was top 60 from a group of more than 10,000 riders, and well on my way to a personal-best output. Decent consolation.

Unsure where Rory ended up, I slowly scrolled up the board, in between deep breaths, to see how close I’d come. Only I didn’t see his name anywhere. Maybe I missed it. So I scrolled the other direction, only to find the Peloton name “Rors89” below mine. I’d somehow managed to vanquish the Tour’s Peloton King. I couldn’t believe it. I screenshotted our stats for posterity, texted them to couple buddies and took the rest of the day off to gloat. Good thing my kids, who were taught to be good sports, weren’t around to see this embarrassing display of showboating.

Rory doesn’t even know (or care) that I took him down during a Peloton class, but I’ll still take the meaningless win — even if it was in a different arena. Not bad for a golf scribe in his mid-30s.

To hear more gear insights from Jonathan Wall and True Spec’s Tim Briand, subscribe and listen each week to GOLF’s Fully Equipped podcast: iTunes | SoundCloud | Spotify | Stitcher