How ‘The Dark Knight’ helped Rory McIlroy overcome his Masters collapse

April 8, 2020
Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy woke up the morning of the final round of the 2011 U.S. Open with a whopping eight-shot lead. A couple of months earlier, he arose to a four-shot advantage on the final day of the Masters — only to fire an 80. On this Sunday, he watched one of his favorite movies, the 2½ -hour “The Dark Knight,” and left for Congressional Country Club.

“I was doing anything I could to not think about what was going to happen that day,” McIlroy said. “One of my favorite movies is ‘The Dark Knight.’ … I watched that in the morning, and it put me in a good place and took my mind away from thinking, ‘OK, how’s the first going to play and how’s the second going to play, and what happens if he does this?’ ”

McIlroy also watched the Congressional gallery.

“I watched my body language back from the Masters, especially on the Sunday when things started to go wrong,” McIlroy said. “I became very closed off, looking at the ground, shoulders rolled in and not creating this positive posture. So one of my big keys for the whole week at the U.S. Open, but especially the last round, no matter what happened, was to keep my eye line above the heads of the spectators.”

He didn’t lose a single shot off his lead.

Before that 2011 Masters, McIlroy admitted he never was really into the mental side of preparation — and certainly not rest and recovery. Now it’s as much a part of his game as his 300-yard drives, he said on a podcast with Will Ahmed, the founder and CEO of Whoop, wearable technology that McIlroy and other pros have used to help with recovery and training

“I was definitely a ”I need only a few hours of sleep a night and sort of wore it as a badge of honor. I can get by, and I’m good the next day,” McIlroy said. “Where now if I don’t get eight hours of sleep I should really go for a nap. So my view on sleep and rest and recovery has changed so much.”

Other takeaways from the podcast released Wednesday:

McIlroy was told before he was 20 that his career would quickly end if he wasn’t careful.

“I had back problems when I was 18 or 19. I had a herniated disk, L4-L5. I was told when I was 19 that if I didn’t sort this out, if I didn’t get stronger, if I wasn’t more diligent on the health side of things that my career could only last a handful of years,” McIlroy said.”That’s when it really hit home to me. … After getting into an MRI scanner every four weeks to see how my back was doing, that’s when I was like, ‘OK, I need to get stronger.’ ”

Why McIlroy lost the lead at the 2011 Masters.

“On the last day, I was trying to be someone else that I wasn’t. I was almost trying to be like Tiger Woods,” McIlroy said. I was trying to be hyper-focused, not look at anyone, not talk to anyone, real business-like. That’s never been me. I approach it a different way. I play my best when I’m a little more happy-go-lucky and relaxed and almost casual about it … but I thought to win the Masters, I need to be like Tiger. That was my mindset and that’s where it went wrong for me.”

How he rebounded from the 2011 Masters.

“The night of was rough,” McIlroy said. “I had a few friends there, and it was tough. But we had dinner with David Feherty. He cheered me up. My mood was boosted. My mom and dad were back in the U.K., so I didn’t talk to them until the next morning. When I talked to my dad, it was fine. He was like, ‘Look, you’ll have more chances. It’s fine.’ But when I spoke to my mom, I just broke down. I needed that.”

“Sometimes the fear of failure is a good thing,” he added. “For me, it was I never want [the 2011 Masters] to happen again. I’ve always prided myself in learning from my mistakes, and I made a lot of mistakes that day and that week. Maybe the next time you’re not going to do everything perfect, but you’re going to be a little bit better. … All I wanted was another opportunity. I wanted to get into the final group of a major again and I wanted to show myself and people that what they saw at the Masters wasn’t a true reflection of who I am.”

McIlroy doesn’t understand why the Golf Channel is on in the clubhouse at tournaments.

”One of my pet peeves at golf tournaments is that the Golf Channel is always on. I’m like, ‘Guys, why is everyone watching this? It’s doing none of us any good.’ It would be like guys getting ready for a World Series game and they’re watching the pregame analysis. I’m like, ‘Jeez, I don’t think we need to see that.’ … The last few years, I made a promise, when I’m at tournaments, I don’t watch any golf, I don’t listen to what they say, I don’t read any news articles. I just shut myself off from all of that.”

When he eats his last meal of the day and why tries to take a cold shower.

“One of the things I’ve learned from wearing Whoop is that if I eat too close to bedtime I don’t sleep well,” McIlroy said. “I’ll probably try to grab dinner at the course or get dinner on the way home from like a Whole Foods or something and eat and make sure that I give myself a two-hour window to when I go to bed. Blue-light glasses, I’ve started wearing those. It’s been so good for me just to start that wind-down process.

“I don’t like doing it, but if I really want to get a good night sleep, I take a cold shower. I’m not a big fan of it, it’s tough for me to do, but it really helps. Some guys will get into the ice bath and feel that that’s good for them and stuff. For me, if I’m taking a shower, for the last 30 seconds, I’ll say, ‘OK, bear this for 30 seconds, it’s going to help.’ Everything is geared towards getting the best rest possible going into the next day.”

Why McIlroy’s alcohol consumption is down.

“I love red wine. I have a cellar at home. It’s a hobby for me. But before I wore Whoop, I drank a lot more than I do now. There would be times at tournaments when I’d have a glass of red wine with dinner. Yes, that’s OK, but doing it too often leads to not great [recovery] scores and not great sleep. My alcohol consumption is way down from wearing Whoop.”

Why McIlroy bets with his caddie.

“Even at practice rounds at tournaments, I’ll have a bet with my caddie, Harry (Diamond),” McIlroy said. “One night that tournament week we always play for dinner. He’ll set me a target and say, OK, if you shoot 64 or better today, I’ll pay for dinner.’ It’s like a little mini pre-tournament before the tournament starts just to get me in that mode of going through my routine and doing the right things and just getting into that mindset.”

The hardest workers he knows.

“There’s two guys where I live [in Jupiter, Fla.] that practice harder than anyone else. It’s myself and Justin Thomas,” McIlroy said. “There’s no coincidence why we’re two of the best players in the world. I see how hard JT works, and he sees how hard that I work. … I have a lot respect for JT because I see how hard he works and I think he tries to put as much into his game as I do.”

The most competitive person he knows.

Tom Brady “is the most competitive person I have ever met,” McIlroy said. “It doesn’t matter whether he’s on the football field or whether he’s on the golf course, whatever he is doing, he is so competitive. Like, I knew that he was the quarterback for the Patriots and he was a really good player. But getting to know him, I’m like, God, this guy’s like so cold. … I hope when I’m his age I still have the passion for golf that he has for football because he is so into what he does.”

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