Rory McIlroy: The one trait all successful people have in common

Grit, Rory says, is the "common denominator" among successful people

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Welcome to Play Smart, a new game-improvement column that drops every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from Director of Game Improvement content Luke Kerr-Dineen to help you play smarter, better golf.

AUGUSTA, Ga. — You won’t find many more thoughtful, introspective people in pro golf than Rory McIlroy. That was evident again ahead of this year’s Masters Tournament, the lone major standing between him and the career Grand Slam.

There’s a lot going on in Rory’s life off the golf course heading into this year’s event, most notable of all his new status as a father.

“It’s probably changed my outlook on life a little bit more,” Rory said. “I feel like the whole world revolved around me for a long time, and now it doesn’t. It revolves around this little person that came into the world a few weeks ago, and it’s a nice change of pace.”

He continued:

“I think you need to be a pretty selfish person to be a good player at this game, and a little bit of selflessness probably isn’t a bad thing for me.”

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The idea that the the best athletes on the planet need to have a hearty selfish streak within them is hardly a revolutionary idea, but it’s something (at least in my experience) that pros do without really knowing. So many pros simply are selfish, and don’t always boast the requisite self-awareness. It struck me that Rory is a little different — that once again, he thinks about this stuff — so I asked him about it.

What are some other qualities you think successful people share?

You can watch the flip for yourself below:

Rory’s take: All successful people have ‘grit’

As you can hear for yourself, Rory things the essence of successful is simple: it comes down to your grit. Your ability to fight through disappointment and never give up.

“There are a lot of words you can associate with grit: persistence, perseverance, stubbornness, doggedness, never really giving up on your dreams,” he says. “That’s the common denominator.”

He goes onto say that grit isn’t something people are born with. It’s something that people have to “learn” and “cultivate.” He was later asked where he thinks his own grit comes from. He said a large portion of it came from his collapse at the 2011 Masters, where he led going into the back nine but finished 10 shots back of the eventual winner.

“My grit’s came from my failures, and I don’t have to look any further than this place in 2011,” he said. “I learned a lot from that day. I learned a lot in terms of what I needed to be and what I didn’t need to be. I needed to be myself.  I didn’t need to try to be like anyone else.”

Failure, he goes onto say, can teach you the best lessons. It may be painful to go through at the time, but it’s not something people should fear:

“You can’t be afraid of failure. You have to embrace the fact that you are going to fail at things, but you should learn from them and then when you go again, you should be better,” he says.

“My grit’s came from my failures. I’ve had a nice little bit of success in this game, but I have failed a hell of a lot more than I have succeeded in this game. And that is why I have succeeded, is because I went through those tough patches, and you need to. You need to go through those tough patches to learn.”

Luke Kerr-Dineen

Golf.com Contributor

Luke Kerr-Dineen is the Director of Game Improvement Content at GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. In his role he oversees all the brand’s service journalism spanning instruction, equipment, health and fitness, across all of GOLF’s multimedia platforms.

An alumni of the International Junior Golf Academy and the University of South Carolina–Beaufort golf team, where he helped them to No. 1 in the national NAIA rankings, Luke moved to New York in 2012 to pursue his Masters degree in Journalism from Columbia University and in 2017 was named News Media Alliance’s “Rising Star.” His work has also appeared in USA Today, Golf Digest, Newsweek and The Daily Beast.