Rory McIlroy was asked this week the advice he gives juniors, and he repeated one word seven times.
“I say have fun.”
“It’s not really about how far you hit it, there’s all this sort of stuff that is important, but I think just have fun.”
“Having fun is the most important aspect, and I have to sometimes tell myself that.”
“Why did I start to play this game? Why did I start to play golf? And it’s because I loved it because I have fun at it.”
“They have to remember to have fun.”
“Making birdies is fun. That’s my fun on the golf course.”
Fun. It’s a good tip. Who doesn’t want to have it? And it’s a good place to start as we hear from McIlroy, one week after a PGA Championship that started with him in the lead and answering one question, and ended with him extending a nearly eight-year drought and leaving Southern Hills without saying a word.
Thursday was fun. A 65 kinda fun. A first-round-lead kinda fun. But this was maybe the most enjoyable — it wasn’t not fun. As GOLF’s Dylan Dethier summed up here, McIlroy had recently been buried by a trend of digging himself holes in first rounds of major championships, only to dig himself out. Maybe no more so was this the case than at the Masters — McIlroy opened with a 73, then went 73, 71 and, memorably, 64 to move all the way to second.
At the PGA, though, the second and third rounds just became the new first, and McIlroy remains major-less since his 2014 PGA win. On Friday at Southern Hills, he shot one-over when his afternoon wave was scoring, and on Saturday, under cool conditions, he was three shots worse. During Sunday’s final round, four straight birdies toward the start teased, then he played two-over from there, finished eighth and left by shaking off reporters.
So where does this all leave him? Technically, in the same spot — searching — and it’s why we’re talking here today. Then again, this year, he’s lost to seven golfers in the majors, and you could argue he’s found at least something.
McIlroy is aware of both thoughts. In an interview this week to promote the GolfNow Compete app, his first comments since the PGA, he was asked for his “regrets” and “positives” from the week, and McIlroy listed several of each.
“Regrets. Yeah, I regret I didn’t take advantage of the benign conditions on Friday afternoon. I regret the big numbers I made in the par-3s on Saturday, the fact that I just needed to play the last 12 holes in one-under par to make a playoff on Sunday, and I didn’t,” he said. “So yeah, I definitely feel like it was one that got away. But again, I have to take the positives and the fact that if eighth place at a major is absolutely the worst — and that’s a completely different story from where I was the first two majors last year in ’21. I missed the cut at Augusta, I finished 50th at the PGA. This year is a different story.
“This year is a lot more positive. My golf game’s in a much better place, and I think at this point I just have to stay as patient as possible. Know that if I keep playing the golf that I’m playing, chances are going to present themselves and I’m going to give myself a few more chances this year to not just win majors, but to win golf tournaments, in general. So that’s the exciting thing, but yeah, last week for sure was disappointing, but I still have a lot to look forward to this year.”
On the majors schedule, the U.S. Open, at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., is next, followed by the Open Championship at St. Andrews, and we’ll all keep tabs on the usual suspects. At the PGA, McIlroy was fifth (good!) in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and Tee to Green, and 15th in SG: Approach (not bad!), and 50th in SG: Around the Green (hmm) and 43rd in SG: Putting (hmm again).
Then again, McIlroy told us and juniors what the most important thing is. And it sounds like he wasn’t repeating “having fun” just for fun.
“I think there’s a lot to be positive about,” McIlroy said. “As I said, where my golf game is now compared to where it was last year, it’s miles ahead of that. The fact that I was tied for the lead at the U.S. Open last year with nine holes to play, three of the last four majors I’ve had real decent chances to win or I’ve had really good finishes, so, that’s a huge positive.
“I feel like the consistency’s back in my golf game that really hasn’t been there. I feel like this year is very similar to 2019 when I had one of my best years ever. I won four times, I was PGA Tour Player of the Year. All my stats, all my numbers are very similar to that year, just without the wins. So, I think if I can just stay patient, those wins will come, and if I just keep giving myself chances and keep knocking on the door, good things are hopefully going to happen.”