Rozner: Rory McIlroy winning at life

  • Rory McIlroy blasts off on the 14th hole Friday in the second round of the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields.

      Rory McIlroy blasts off on the 14th hole Friday in the second round of the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields. Barry Rozner | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 8/30/2020 8:20 AM

Rory McIlroy has never been afraid to say what he thinks.

There have been times when offering up his thoughts have caused him some difficulty, the result of an era in which being offended is a favored career choice, even the innocuous comment a scandal if the professionally affronted decide it so.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Still, he says what he believes and when McIlroy talks the golf world listens appreciating his perspective on golf, life or social issues.

Now 31, married, starting a family and 14 years a professional, he has grown up before our eyes, becoming something of an elder statesman on Tour, a spokesman for players generally unwilling to say anything interesting.

When there's a major conversation taking place regarding golf, McIlroy has thoughts and he shares them if asked.

Leading up to this week's BMW Championship at Olympia Fields, McIlroy spoke honestly about struggling to find both his game and his fire minus the galleries that provide so much energy.

Hardly controversial, but nonetheless providing context with an admission that not all would have the courage or honesty to make.

His willingness to discuss nearly anything is refreshing in an individual sport where most players will divulge nothing about themselves or their approach.

And while he won so much when he was younger and it looked so easy for so long -- with 28 wins worldwide -- he now sees how tough the game can be. After winning four majors in four years, McIlroy has gone without a major victory for six years.

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Fitting that in U.S. Open conditions, on a U.S. Open-quality course, McIlroy has played his way into contention at the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields this week and is 3 shots back heading into the final round.

"It doesn't keep me up at night and I don't think about it every day, but when I play major championships, it's something that I'm obviously reminded of," McIlroy said. "Look, I would have liked to have won a couple more majors in that time frame, and I feel like I've had a couple of decent chances to do so. I just haven't gotten the job done.

"But the good thing is we have more opportunities this year and then if things normalize, four opportunities (next year). So we're playing seven major championships in 12 months. I've got plenty of opportunities coming my way.

"I think everyone that stands up here wishes they would have won more and would have played better and all that stuff. I've given myself chances. I just haven't been able to capitalize on them."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Not everyone is Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan. Not everyone lives only to win. Perhaps a younger McIlroy might have looked at it that way, but his life is much different six years later.

"I'm hopefully a little wiser, a little more mature, a little more experienced," McIlroy said. "Back then golf was everything to me. It's important, and I want to make the most of my time on Tour, but there's other things in my life that have happened that are important to me."

You can't blame a man for enjoying the spoils and living his life, while not dying with every shot. You can admire Jordan and Woods for their approach while accepting that not everyone is wired that way.

"Maybe I've got a little more balance," McIlroy said. "I don't get bogged down as much just by golf. There's other things that give me joy and give me pleasure and fulfill me, and that's probably the biggest difference."

After winning two majors in 2014, McIlroy was the favorite to win at St. Andrews in 2015 after Augusta (fourth) and the U.S. Open (ninth), but he tore up his ankle playing soccer and missed the Open Championship.

That could be when his mindset began to change.

"It was a nice dose of perspective," McIlroy said. "The Open went to a Monday finish and right when play was finishing and they were going into the playoff, I was walking out of the gym from rehabbing my ankle and people were just going about their daily lives.

"I was sort of looking around, and it's like, yeah, it obviously means a lot to me, but in the wider world it's not that important.

"It was a nice healthy dose of perspective for me. I couldn't believe people were not watching the final round of the Open Championship."

Something else that has changed is the way McIlroy rushes to the defense of his brethren when one is unfairly attacked or disrespected, as was the case a few weeks ago when Brooks Koepka took a shot at Dustin Johnson the night before the fourth round of the PGA Championship, pointing out that Johnson had captured "only" one major.

Koepka was in the hunt and apparently trying to get in another player's head.

"I heard the interview and was taken aback," McIlroy said after he played the final round at Harding Park. "If he's trying to play mind games, he's trying with the wrong person. I don't think D.J. really (cares).

"I try to respect everyone out here. Everyone is a great player. If you've won a major championship, you're a heck of a player. Doesn't mean you've only won one. You've won one. And you had to do a lot of good things to do that.

"I mean, sort of hard to knock a guy (Johnson) who's got 21 wins on the PGA Tour, which is three times what Brooks has."

Koepka shot 4-over on the front and disappeared from PGA contention that Sunday. Johnson hung tough and didn't win, but he obliterated the field last week in Boston for his 22nd career victory.

Along with poking Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau, Koepka also took shots at McIlroy last year when the two were near the top of the World Golf Rankings.

"I've been out here for what, five years?" Koepka said. "Rory hasn't won a major since I've been on the PGA Tour. So I don't view it as a rivalry."

Asked about going back and forth with Koepka, McIlroy stopped the question and wondered, "Have we? I feel like it's been a one-way street."

And yet, despite the disrespect and repeated trash talk from Koepka, last week McIlroy supported Koepka when he withdrew in Boston because of knee and hip injuries.

"I think it's smart on his part to do that," McIlroy said, "and hopefully he comes back healthy and comes back ready to play."

That's a secure individual who passes on an opportunity to fire on a guy who's been running his mouth quite a bit and going winless for more than a year.

That's where Rory McIlroy is today, happy and secure and enjoying his life, success on the course or not. Not a bad place to be. Not bad at all.

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