Few players on the PGA Tour are more publicly reflective than Rory McIlroy. He talks about his mental approach often. He talks both long and well. And his words, at least recently, have never been more revealing, particularly Sunday night after he won the CJ Cup.
McIlroy cruised to victory in Las Vegas for his second victory of 2021, following a rather turbulent summer of ups and downs on the course. He missed the cut at the Players Championship, the Masters, and the Scottish Open. Then the Ryder Cup came and McIlroy was ready to shut it down for the year.
On Saturday night of the Cup, McIlroy was winless and thinking he wouldn’t compete again until 2022. Twenty-four hours later, he delivered an emotional interview to Sky Sports talking about how proud he was to be a teammate. Ryder Cup week offers that. The other 51 weeks a year don’t. And during those 51 other weeks, McIlroy had been grinding to be a different player.
“I feel the last couple weeks I’ve realized that just being me is good enough,” McIlroy said, “and maybe the last few months I was trying — not trying to be someone else, but maybe trying to add things to my game or take things away from my game. I know that when I do the things that I do well, this is what I’m capable of. I’m capable of winning a lot of events on the PGA Tour and being the best player in the world.”
He’s not wrong, but it sounds like McIlroy had lost sight of that. What was he trying to add or take away from his game? He didn’t elaborate, but McIlroy has discussed how he tried gaining speed in response to Bryson DeChambeau’s exploits at the U.S. Open one year ago. It led him down a path where his swing became flattened out a bit and extremely reliant upon rotation. Speaking with reporters Sunday night, he discussed how he has returned to being a very visual player.
“The whole week leading up to this, all I did on the range was try to visualize every shot that I hit, try to see draws, see fades, see high, see low and really just play around with it,” McIlroy said. “The more and more I did that and the more it feels comfortable on the course doing that, and that’s playing golf. That’s getting back to hitting shots and when it boils down to it, that’s all you need to do out there are hit the shots. Sometimes I forgot that in a quest to try to be too perfect probably, but this week was a great reminder that you don’t need to be perfect to be a great golfer.”
McIlroy’s win was his 20th victory in a wildly successful Tour career, a feat only 38 other players have ever accomplished. Only five players have done it as quickly as he did. Were any of them perfect? Nope. But for a player of McIlroy’s stature, who hasn’t won a major championship in seven years, it’s difficult to remain content. Accomplishments require him to reassess his goals and think about the next accomplishment on the list.
“As I’ve went along in my career, I’ve had to do that because you just, you keep going,” he said. “You can’t just stagnate and stay the same, you have to try to keep getting better and keep doing more things. I think that’s what this is. Golf is just about moving forward and there’s always next week and you’re always trying to get better.”
We can’t blame the guy for trying to add to his game. But based on what it looks like when Rory is being Rory, we probably won’t see him try anything else for a long while.