McIlroy — locked in a fishbowl existence — backs Clarke for captaincy

McIlroy — locked in a fishbowl existence — backs Clarke for captaincy

Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy sat down to talk with the BBC. Picture © BBCNI

The Ryder Cup is the ultimate pressure cooker for a golfer but for Rory McIlroy — who wants Darren Clarke to succeed Paul McGinley as captain in 2016 — it’s not a lot different from the goldfish bowl existence that sums up the world No 1’s life these days.

Speaking alongside Clarke and Graeme McDowell in a special documentary on the major winning Northern Irish trio, which airs on BBC One Northern Ireland at 10.35pm tonight (Wed), McIlroy explains how golf now his mistress and how he lives constantly in fear of being caught off guard by a fan with a mobile phone and a twitter account.

“Every single person now is a media outlet because they have a Facebook or a Twitter or an Instagram or whatever it is,” he explains to the BBC’s Steve Watson. “You always have that shield up. 

“Even when you should be enjoying your time with your friends or your family, you just always have that guard up because if you misstep the slightest bit or put a foot wrong, you do something that people don’t like, it’s going to get pounced on and you are going to get criticised for it. 

Rory McIlroy

“The advice my mum and dad have always given me is be yourself. Be yourself and be happy. People can say and write what they think.”

Clarke admitted that being “judged all the time” is the toughest thing about sporting celebrity, especially for high profile players like McIlroy and McDowell. 

“It takes a very strong person mentally,” McIlroy says. “You need a thick skin because if you start to read what everyone writes about you and the comments you can get sensitive pretty quick.

“But it is part of what we do. It is more a part of my life because of some of the decisions I have made off the course. But at the end of the day I just try to lead my life the way I want to and the way that makes me happy.”

While family men like Clarke and new dad McDowell are taking a step back from the tour grind and playing less frequently, McIlroy admits that mixing high level sport with relationships is not an easy juggling act.

The disintegration of his relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, culminating in him breaking off their engagement in May, has meant that he is now married to the game itself.

Golf is my girlfriend at the minute and it is going to be that way for a while
— Rory McIlroy

“I am taking a leaf out of G-Macs book and saying golf is a single man’s game,” he says. “I am at the stage of my career and my life when I am putting golf first. Golf is a priority for me right now and for the foreseeable future that is what it is going to be. 

“We travel so much, we are never really in the same place for very long. So it is hard to keep relationships going, if you want to start one or whatever it is.

Darren Clarke

“Golf is my girlfriend at the minute and it is going to be that way for a while.”

Four wins, including two majors and a World Golf Championship, in the last five months are a testament to the benefits of remaining a bachelor golfer. 

Asked what he might be if he hadn’t become a golfer, McIlroy joked: “A virgin!”

But apart from the girls, the fame and the money, there is another benefit to McIlroy’s vaunted position in the game — clout.

McIlroy is now such a powerful figure in the European team that he has outgrown McDOwell as a partner. He is also very much the king-maker having stood up and called for McGinley to get the Ryder Cup captaincy in the run-up to the vote in Abu Dhabi at the start of last year.

Now it looks as though he will have a big say in who gets to succeed the Dubliner and he’s nailed his colours to the mast for Clarke.

“For a Ryder Cup in the States, I don’t think there is any better candidate from the European side,” McIlroy says. “He is absolutely loved over there.

“He’s hugely popular in the US. They love the whole cigar-smoking aspect and he’ll be just as well received in the US as probably the US captain.

“So it can only be an advantage for the European team if Darren was to lead us out in the States.”

Graeme McDowell

McDowell also endorsed the Dungannon man’s candidacy, saying but while Clarke tried to play it down, indicating that “the committee has to vote,” McIlroy interjected: “There is a bit of player power in there too!”

As for the future, all three admit that winning golf tournaments is a “drug” that’s hard to give up and while McIlroy originally planned to retire at 40, he now believes he will find it hard to step away from the game.

“When I started my professional career at 18, I said there is no way I am going to go past 40 and that 22 years on tour is enough. Now I'm thinking 45 and maybe in a few years I will go to 50. I don’t think you ever lose that competitiveness.”

** “Major Champions”, an Imagine Media production for BBC Northern Ireland, airs today (Wednesday 24 September ) on BBC One Northern Ireland at 10.35pm and tomorrow (Thursday 25 September) on BBC Two at 1.30pm.