There’s nothing like Confident Rory McIlroy. Here’s how that looks.
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — In any skill-based endeavor, talent inspires confidence. But confidence inspires talent, too. Peak performance comes when each feeds off the other, the talent and the confidence.
In the golf world, there’s no figure whose confidence is as visibly tied to his performance as Rory McIlroy. And Confident Rory is co-leading the Open Championship with just 18 holes to play.
What does Confident Rory look like? I’m glad you asked.
Confident Rory hits driver everywhere he can. He’s just 5’10 and 160 lbs, but he’s built like a stick of dynamite — just significantly more accurate. You can count on one hand the number of PGA Tour players who hit it further, and you won’t need the entire hand. You could even argue nobody has driven the ball better over the course of their career, ever. Confident Rory can cut it and he can draw it, but right now he’s hitting driver pretty damn straight — and yes, still really far. He can thread it down the narrow 16th fairway at the Old Course because he’s confident he knows where it’s going.
Confident Rory knows that just because you’re holding a wedge doesn’t mean it has to land in kick-in range. As it turns out, that’s how you get yourself in bigger trouble — him especially. McIlroy is intimately familiar with the botched wedge. But Confident Rory has never heard of it. He recognizes all you can do is execute the shot in front of you, like at No. 16 at the Old Course, staring down a treacherous hole location that’s more risk than reward. Confident Rory played to the middle of the green.
Confident Rory is a close relative of Patient Rory. Confidence breeds patience. If McIlroy believes he’s the best golfer in the tournament — and in the world — what’s the rush? What’s the need to force things?
“I think with how controlled I am and how much belief I have in myself at the minute, it is maybe a touch easier to stay patient,” he said. Patience is the order of the day at the Old Course, where there are holes to be wary and surgical and holes to pin back your ears and go full steam ahead. Confident Rory can do both.
Confident Rory walks — nay, bounces — down the fairway in a very specific way. With his upper body fully upright, his posture prideful. With his head held high, looking straight ahead, not an ounce of tension, a hint of bobble as he goes. He covers ground quickly, staying just ahead of caddie Harry Diamond, who does his best to keep up. But it’s never hurried. Confident Rory is excited for what’s ahead, but he’s not overly anxious to get there.
Confident Rory plays without doubt. He picks a target and a shot shape and does his best to execute. Later, he doesn’t second-guess himself. On No. 17, McIlroy’s tee shot found the left rough. He faced a difficult shot to a tucked back-left hole location. He tried to pitch it on the front right edge and flew it over the back instead, short-siding himself against a stone wall. It was the sort of shot ripe for armchair quarterbacking, but Confident Rory saw this as the only option. When that option was unsuccessful, he took his medicine, made his only bogey of the day and moved on.
“I was happy enough to get out of there with a 5,” he concluded. No need for second thought. On to the next.
Confident Rory answers the questions he wants to answer, regardless of what he’s asked in the press room. He doesn’t dodge questions, but he says what he wants to say. This is similar but different to the Confident Rory of a decade ago, who would speak first — and freely! — and think things through later. That made for tantalizing tabloid headlines, but McIlroy grew understandably tired of the taste of his shoe. Now he controls the room.
Confident Rory stays committed to his process. There is an endless string of people who have made an endless string of requests for him, and McIlroy is a people-pleaser by nature. But Confident Rory isn’t afraid to protect his time and his space and his focus. Confident Rory keeps his gaze straight ahead, aware but unaffected.
“The support that I’ve gotten this week [from fans] has been absolutely incredible,” he said on Saturday. “I appreciate it and I feel it out there. But at the same time, I’m trying my hardest just to stay in my own little world because that’s the best way for me to get the best out of myself.”
Still, Confident Rory isn’t afraid to look around a little bit when the moment demands it. He’s intentional about observing the world around without necessarily leaving his cocoon. He’s been blown away by the size of the galleries and the volume of their ovations. Confident Rory wants to enjoy the moment — because otherwise, what’s the point?
As he came up No. 18 on Saturday, McIlroy peeked to his right and up into the Rusacks hotel, searching for his parents, for his wife Erica, for his daughter Poppy.
“I think it’s appreciating the moment as well and appreciating the fact that it’s unbelievably cool to have a chance to win the Open at St Andrews,” he said. “It’s what dreams are made of.”
Mark Twain didn’t know Confident Rory, but then again, he did. “All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure,” he said famously. While it’s not clear Twain knew much about hitting a 2-iron 326 yards onto the 18th green of a major championship, and while it’s worth noting that confidence cannot conjure talent where there is none, he had a point. Ignorance and confidence are a powerful duo.
McIlroy won’t ever achieve true ignorance. It wouldn’t work for him to block it all out. But his particular brand of confidence and talent gets him something even better: Freedom. Confident Rory is filled with freedom. He’s defined by it. His swing is free. His stride is free. His putting stroke, too.
Confident Rory makes it look like everything is easy. It’s an illusion. None of this is easy.
Or else we’d see Confident Rory all the time.