I don't need to fill a void in life with Majors: McIlroy

LONDON • The most astute observations about elite sport do not always come from those competing.

It was Rory McIlroy's wife, Erica, who delivered a perspective on the Masters that resonated with one of the world's finest golfers.

"She put it like this; it's like when you are a kid and you go to Disneyland," McIlroy says. "You think it is the only place in the world. When you are at Augusta that week, it's the only place in the world. You drink the punch, everyone is wearing their Masters gear. It's like Disney with your mouse ears.

"You leave on Sunday night and all of a sudden you snap out of it. The week passed so quickly and you were in a daze because of the whole Augusta thing. You have got to strip that all away. It's a golf course, it's a golf tournament."

After winning the Players Championship last month - a first trophy in 12 months - McIlroy will return to Augusta National next week as one of the favourites for a tournament that has eluded him, sometimes painfully.

At 29, he is seeking to become only the sixth player to complete a Grand Slam of Majors.

That McIlroy has not won one of the big four since 2014 only fuels the hype around him. He is judged by loftier standards but he has no problem with that status.

MAJOR IS MINOR

So does it scare me that I might not win another Major? It doesn't scare me at all but that doesn't mean I don't want to.

RORY MCILROY, world No. 3 golfer, on not winning another Major.

He first competed at Augusta in 2008. In 2011, he capitulated horribly over the closing nine holes from a dominant position. And when the scene appeared set for McIlroy to topple Patrick Reed over the final round last year, he was unable to apply sufficient pressure to the American.

"If you win, you win, if you don't … I think it has taken me a while to get to this point," the world No. 3 says. "Indifferent maybe sounds wrong but I'm not at the point where it's a burden to me. Not at all."

Curiously, though, his latest tilt at the Masters will come in a year when it is not even the summit of his aspirations. The return of the British Open to Royal Portrush, where McIlroy used to watch his father, Gerry, compete in amateur events, holds special significance.

He said: "I don't know if I am going to get to play in another Open at home. I don't get emotional about it - I get excited."

A common misconception seems to be that his lifestyle somehow diminishes his on-course appetite. He knows what Masters victory would mean, he is just keen to put it into context.

"I would join a group of people who are legends of the game that I fell in love with as a kid. That is really cool. That is unbelievably cool.

"If I win the Masters I'm not going to wake up on Monday morning as a different person. I'll be the same Rory, with the same parents, same wife, same group of people around me. Nothing is going to change.

"I live the greatest life I ever thought I could. I am thinking of the bigger picture; will it change the fact I'm married to a great person, will it change that I'll hopefully have kids one day and a great family? All that stuff isn't going to change if I win four Majors or 10.

"Winning tournaments makes me happy, satisfied I've achieved something but that's not fulfilment. Fulfilment is much bigger than golf tournaments. I don't need to fill a void in my life by winning Majors. I don't have that void.

"So does it scare me that I might not win another Major? It doesn't scare me at all but that doesn't mean I don't want to."

He has finished inside Augusta's top 10 every year since 2013 but his critics demand so much more.

"There are misconceptions about my game but more about my attitude.

"People think I've been born with this natural talent, I go out and play golf without caring about it.

"I work harder than most but I don't put it out there. Why do people need to see that?

"When I'm at home I'm spending eight or 10 hours a day at the course; gym, hitting balls, putting, short game, playing."

Cliche bashing has become something of an endearing McIlroy habit. Do not suggest, for example, that a Masters win would represent the completion of a journey.

"The journey isn't for 10 years. The journey even to get to that first (professional) win was longer than the journey to get to here from there. The journey from hitting golf balls at two or three years of age to winning? That was 16 to 17 years.

"If I need to wait for this, fine. I'm in this for the long haul, this isn't something I'm going to give up in a couple of years to do something else."

It is left to others to contemplate the level of expectation should McIlroy be in Masters pole position next Sunday morning.

"If I'm committed to this life-long journey of trying to be one of the best players ever, why does this one round count more than any of the others?

"If I go out there and play the game the way I know I can? I'll be fine."

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 07, 2019, with the headline 'I don't need to fill a void in life with Majors: McIlroy'. Print Edition | Subscribe