A Greg Norman text? A Tiger lesson? 5 revelations from a Rory McIlroy sit down
Rory McIlroy texted Greg Norman. Then he read a story. And ever since, McIlroy says, he’s tried “to be as much of a pain in his arse as possible.”
In the second part of journalist Paul Kimmage’s sit down with McIlroy published Sunday in the Sunday Independent, McIlroy also opened up on his relationship with Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia. And a Tiger Woods at-home wedge lesson and a gear move that he called “the turning point of the year.” Kimmage’s first part ran last week, and the follow-up is equally well done.
As for this space, we’ll offer last Sunday’s plan.
Again, it’s here where you should click over to give the full 8,500-word story a read. Go, go, go. We’ll wait.
When you’re done, come back and we’ll help you digest it all with five takeaways.
1. Rory McIlroy never saw Phil Mickelson as a ‘threat’
In McIlroy’s and Kimmage’s words: McIlroy: “Phil has always been great to me. His wife, Amy, is lovely, always super nice and cordial, and I always enjoyed Phil. He’s pretty funny in his own way. The first time I met him was at the Barclays Singapore Open in 2009, he was sponsored by Barclays at the time. Then over the years, I got, not closer with him, but I spent more time with him through the Ryder Cups and when we were paired together at events. But in terms of where he sat on my radar growing up … obviously a great player, a great, great, golfer, but Tiger was my hero and I never saw Phil as a threat.”
Kimmage: “What do you mean by threat?”
McIlroy: “A threat to Tiger’s legacy. I sort of put him in the same boat as Ernie Els — great player, household name, always up there — but the two people I looked up to most as a kid were Tiger and Sergio [Garcia].”
Mickelson could appreciate this. He’s been excellent as an analyst — during the 2020 PGA Championship, during various Matches, during the final LIV Golf event of this year — and McIlroy’s thought was direct. It’s delightful to hear players’ thoughts on other players jn a manner of a fan, isn’t it?
Kimmage also asked about another McIlroy comment on Mickelson. You may remember it, which came in late February, after the final round of the Genesis Invitational. Earlier in the week, Mickelson explained to the Fire Pit Collective website, controversially, why he was working with a Saudi Arabian group to form what would become LIV Golf, and McIlroy unloaded.
“I don’t want to kick someone while he’s down obviously, but I thought they were naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant,” McIlroy said at the time. “A lot of words to describe that interaction he had with Shipnuck. It was just very surprising and disappointing, sad.
“I’m sure he’s sitting at home sort of rethinking his position and where he goes from here.”
About three months later, LIV played its first event, and Mickelson was among the field.
“I’ll take Phil at his word when he says that what he was trying to do was for the benefit of everyone — ‘a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the way the PGA Tour operates,’ I think was the quote,” McIlroy said in the Sunday Independent interview. “But to use the Saudis to do that was not a good idea. Just not a good idea. And I think the blowback he got was justified.”
2. Rory McIlroy’s ‘turning point of the year’ involved a golf ball
In McIlroy’s and Kimmage’s words: McIlroy: “Yeah. I went to the TaylorMade guys after the round and said, ‘Look, I’m done with this golf ball. I have no idea if it’s going long or short.’ And they said, ‘Bob MacIntryre’s in the field this week. He’s playing an older version of your ball. Why don’t you see how you get on with that?’ So I hit a bunch of them, the 2019 TP5x, on the Thursday afternoon, and the spin rates were a lot more consistent. Then I played with it on Friday and missed the cut, which was a blessing in disguise.”
McIlroy: “Because it’s a slightly harder ball and I was able to come back and spend two days here with Harry on the range working to bed it in, putting with it, chipping with it, trying to get more comfortable. It was a massive change to make on the eve of Augusta, but it ended up being the best thing I did this year.”
Wild. This came during the Texas Open, one week before the Masters.
After that, McIlroy won the Tour Championship, won the DP World Tour season-long race and moved back to world No. 1.
This exchange between Kimmage and McIlroy sums it all up well.
Kimmage: “The f**king ball!”
Kimmage: “That is ridiculous.”
3. Rory McIlroy texted Greg Norman in April
In McIlroy’s words: “We’ve had this really nice back-and-forth and he says that about me. I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to make it my business now to be as much of a pain in his arse as possible.”
You know where the relationship between McIlroy and Norman stands now — Norman is the LIV Golf CEO, McIlroy is one of the faces of the PGA Tour, both tours have sued each other, and last month, McIlroy said Norman needed to “exit stage left” if the sides ever were to meet. But back in April, McIlroy said in the Sunday Independent interview, he texted Norman after watching an ESPN documentary on him.
“‘Greg, I just watched your documentary on ESPN,’” McIlroy told Kimmage. “‘I thought it was fantastic. It must have been very tough to do that. Hopefully it reminds everyone of what a great golfer you were.’ There was another thing. When I lost or had my meltdown at Augusta in 2011, Greg had sent a lovely message and been really helpful to me.”
“Yes, I remember you talking about that before,” Kimmage said.
“Yeah, he was great,” McIlroy said. “So I said to him, ‘Watching it reminded me of how you reached out to me in 2011, and I just want to say that I’ll always appreciate it. It meant a lot. I know our opinion on the game of golf right now is very different, but I just wanted you to know that and wish you all the best.’”
So what happened from there?
A few days later, McIlroy told the Sunday Independent, he saw a quote from Norman in the Washington Post in which Norman said McIlroy was “brainwashed” by the PGA Tour.
And McIlroy made his “business” decision.
4. How Rory McIlroy learned Sergio Garcia was going to LIV
In McIlroy’s words: “He said to me on the range that he’d gotten a new plane, and that if I wanted a ride with him to that first LIV event in London I was welcome.”
Remember above when McIlroy said he idolized Garcia growing up? Well …
In the Sunday Independent interview, McIlroy said he learned that Garcia was going to LIV “basically the week that he berated the rules official at the Wells Fargo in May.” (In case you forgot, the incident involved a penalty, a correction of the penalty and a memorable goodbye, and you can relive it all here.)
Then, a few weeks later, McIlroy told the Sunday Independent that Garcia texted him.
“On the Friday of the U.S. Open … I woke up to a text that was sent at 5.30 that morning. He had an early tee time, I didn’t, and I woke up to this text basically telling me to shut up about LIV, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I was pretty offended and sent him back a couple of daggers, and that was it.”
5. Tiger Woods gave Rory McIlroy a wedge lesson at his house
In McIlroy’s words: “And then … I don’t know, for whatever reason he reached out to me. ‘Look, I think I can help you. You should be winning three or four times a year. You know where I am if you want to catch up on a few things.’”
In the Sunday Independent interview, McIlroy revealed that he became closer with Woods after his car crash last year. He visited Woods at home. And a few months later, Woods “reached out.”
Only it took a while for McIlroy to take him up on it.
“Let’s revisit the chronology,” Kimmage wrote in the Sunday Independent. “Tiger sent you the text in September and Bay Hill was in March, is that right?”
“That is right,” McIlroy said.
“Why did it take you six f**king months to go and see him?” Kimmage said.
“I think at this point you know, I like figuring it out for myself,” McIlroy said. “I always have. And it wasn’t just … I’ve learned a ton from Tiger over the years, not just that day but just chatting with him in locker rooms and picking his brain. But I still need to make it my own. I’ve always needed to make it my own idea (laughs), and I know that’s how I work best.”
“Even when it’s Tiger?” Kimmage said.
“Yeah,” McIlroy said.
“That is so good,” Kimmage said.