Can Olympic "freedom" help Rory? "I feel a weight has been lifted"

Can Olympic "freedom" help Rory? "I feel a weight has been lifted"
Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy believes his decision to snub the Olympics is a weight off his shoulders that could help him go on to achieve more major glory.

The 27-year old won two majors in 2014 to take his tally to four but after nearly two years dogged by injury, erratic form and his doubts over Rio, he feels liberated and focussed on his big goals — winning more majors and Ryder Cups for Europe.

Believing that a fifth major win at a green and soft Royal Troon would be the perfect way to silence his critics and set about retaking the world No 1 crown, McIlroy said: “It would be huge. 

“I try not to read everything that is written about me and try to stay away from that as much as I possibly can.

“But I understand the questions that are coming my way and I understand the comments. How can you in 2014 make winning majors look pretty routine and two years goes on and you haven’t won one since? 

“I feel that’s just the game of golf and that’s partly me and how I am as a player. 

“And I feel I am getting back toward that peak where I can put in a performance in a major championship and once I do that it could be another great run. 

“But I need to start pretty soon and no better week to do it than here.”

With Jordan Spieth winning the Masters and the US Open last year and Jason Day taking the US PGA before taking over as world No 1, McIlroy is under pressure to show who’s top dog.

Add to that the fact that Dustin Johnson has broken through by winning this year’s US Open and McIlroy knows he has to step up.

Getting the Olympics question out of the way before the last two majors of the year is a big move.

And McIlroy is hoping that the clarity he now has will make the difference and allow him to focus on his true goals.

Explaing his Olympics decision in detail, he said: “Zika is a risk but there are other risks attached to going to Rio from political unrest to security issues. So there is more to it that that. 

“There were enough people around me, members of my team and my family who weren’t comfortable and I wasn’t comfortable going down there so I felt that the best decision for me was to pull the plug.

“We have golf in the Olympics in Tokyo in four years’ time and if I really feel the need to get that Olympic experience hopefully, I can go there and do that.  

“I have no regrets. I have made my stance pretty clear and golf in the Olympics. I play for other things. 

“Golf in the Olympics is great for golf and to grow the game. There is no question about that. But with the number of top professionals have decided not to go, that shows where it stands in our minds. 

“Maybe it would have been best served with amateurs going to play, who knows. I think as a collective group of professionals, we weren’t approached. 

"I have made by stance clear. I don’t regret my decision at all and I actually feel like I have more  peace of mind not going.”

First asked about the Olympics at the US PGA in 2009, McIlroy said: “I have danced around the issue long enough and once I pulled out of the Olympics it was definitely a weight off my shoulders. 

“Golf in the Games is great for golf but this is a selfish decision and golf is a selfish game. I feel a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”

McIlroy explained that his chat with Sonia O’Sullivan on a recent flight home from Dubai helped him decide.

“She said, if it isn’t the be all and end all, you should focus on other things,” he explained. "I want to focus on other things. I want to win major championships. I want to win Ryder Cups for Europe.

“For me I felt it was the best decision not to go. You don’t want to go and play if you heart isn’t in it. If you are half-hearted going there to play, you are never going to perform to the best of your ability.“

Veterans like Paul McGinley have criticised McIlroy’s erratic recent putting, believing it is holding him back.

But the Holywood native does not agree, even if he has changed his putting grip twice this year.

He said: “Honestly, I've had two of my best putting weeks recently. I had my best putting week on the PGA Tour a few weeks ago at the Memorial, and I had one of my best putting weeks on the European Tour at the French Open the last time I played. 

“I feel like I hole my fair share. There are some weeks that I do, there are some weeks that I don't. I don't really feel like that's a concern.”

Described earlier this week as being in danger of becoming the Ringo Starr of the Big Four, McIlroy knows that golf depends on confidence and he has lacked a little of his old mojo for a few months now.

He said: “It’s not a case of trying to wait for something to happen. You have to try to make something happen. So I think one thing that I always try not to lose the belief,

“Once you lose belief in yourself and start to doubt yourself, that’s when it can start to go the other way.”

Taking an indirect shot at Day, Spieth and Johnson (who have four majors betweem them), he added: “I’ve got four major championships, and I’d love to add to that tally, just as those guys would love to add to their one or two majors that they have and just keep going.”

An attacking performance here may just stir something in McIlroy, who admitted to becoming more tentative recently.

He confessed: “Maybe just haven't had the confidence in myself to hit the shots that are required, and that goes back to that belief. 

“I think with experience, sometimes there are memories that stick in your head. Sometimes they're good, and sometimes they're bad. 

“I feel like one of the big reasons why I haven't won more this year is because I've made enough birdies, but I haven't limited the damage. I've made too many bogeyss. 

“Maybe that comes from being a little bit aggressive at some points or maybe it is not being aggressive enough and committing and trusting myself. 

“But I feel like with the things that I'm working on in my swing, hopefully that will get me to that point where I start to trust myself more and trust the shots that I’m trying to hit and trust that, more times than not, I can pull them off.”