Tearful Rory McIlroy showed why the Ryder Cup is ‘the best event in golf’

rory mcilroy cries nbc

Rory McIlroy might not have always understood the power of the Ryder Cup, but he sure does now.

NBC

It’s not often a player cries in the wake of defeat. It’s poor form, a misappropriation of the fundamental tenet of the “gentleman’s game.”

Even rarer is the player who, in the wake of defeat, cries tears of joy. Celebrating a loss is unfathomable even for the greatest athletes. We love sports because they are unrelentingly meritocratic — to the winner go the spoils. And to the loser? Well, who cares?

On Sunday at the Ryder Cup — a day that history will undoubtedly remember as the emphatic conclusion of an American romp — Rory McIlroy cried. He was crestfallen, sure — he’d just closed out the week with a meaningless victory in a singles match over Xander Schauffele, finishing at Whistling Straits with a dismal 1-3-0 record. But he was joyful.

“I’m incredibly proud to be a part of this team,” McIlroy told NBC through tears. “To be a teammate at all. All these guys, captains, vice captains. We’ve had a great time. It looks like it’s not going to pan out the way we wanted in the golf course. It’s been a tough week, but the more and more I play in this event, I realize that it’s the best event in golf, bar-none.”

It was a startling moment of levity from McIlroy — not unlike the tearful interview then-Presidents Cup captain Tiger Woods gave at Royal Melbourne in 2019.

“It’s been one of the more amazing challenges of my career,” Tiger said back then. “All of the guys believed in one another, they relied upon one another as a team, and we did it together, as a team.”

But then again, Woods had just captained a victorious Presidents Cup team when his waterworks struck. At the time of McIlroy’s interview, he stood in the shadow of a tidal wave — a European loss was all but certain, and he deserved a large chunk of the blame.

McIlroy was the perfect encapsulation of the European struggle this week. The previous afternoon, his play forced captain Padraig Harrington to sit him for the first time in his Ryder Cup career.

And yet there he was, sanguine in dejection, grateful even.

“I don’t think there’s any greater privilege than to be a part of one of these teams,” he said. “Europeans or Americans. It’s an absolute privilege.”

Rory McIroy looks off in the distance at the 2021 ryder cup.
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There’s that word again. Team. The rarest of all accomplishments in golf. And how surprising to hear it from McIlroy, who once showered the very same event in apathy.

“[The Ryder Cup] is not a huge goal of mine,” he said in 2009. “It’s an exhibition at the end of the day…in the big scheme of things it’s not that important an event for me. Obviously I’ll try my best for the team – but I’m not going to go running around fist-pumping.”

What’s clear now that wasn’t then — both to Woods and McIlroy — is that we love sports for more than their honesty. Our love for them has nothing to do with winners or losers. Rather, the real lifeblood of our sports is that we do not win or lose alone.

“I’ve never really cried or gotten emotional about what I’ve done as an individual, I couldn’t give a s—,” McIlroy said. “This team, to what it means and what it’s part of, all that is just phenomenal. As I said, I’m disappointed that I didn’t contribute more this week, but in two years’ time we’ll go at it again. I love being a part of it, and I can’t wait to be a part of more.”

The Ryder Cup is over. It has once again afforded us a winner, and who cares what happens to the loser?

As it turns out, us.

James Colgan

Golf.com Editor

James Colgan is an assistant editor at GOLF, contributing stories for the website and magazine on a broad range of topics. He writes the Hot Mic, GOLF’s weekly media column, and utilizes his broadcast experience across the brand’s social media and video platforms. A 2019 graduate of Syracuse University, James — and evidently, his golf game — is still defrosting from four years in the snow, during which time he cut his teeth at NFL Films, CBS News and Fox Sports. Prior to joining GOLF, James was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from.