Rory on golf in Rio: "I was glad to be somewhat proven wrong"

Rory on golf in Rio: "I was glad to be somewhat proven wrong"
Irish golf's Rory McIlroy

Irish golf's Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy is back in action this week and for those wondering about the big issues, he didn’t mention Pat Hickey or karma even once.

He did used the word “somewhat” four times. 

Since he missed the cut in the PGA he has “somewhat” addressed his putting woes by changing putter and going to the SAM lab to work on his bad habits.

On Nike’s exit from the equipment and golf ball market, he said he got just two hours notice, is stockpiling golf balls and has no plans to make any big changes for as long as "a year or two", even if companies are sending unsolicited samples to his parents' home in Northern Ireland.

"I guess for me, I have a big pool to choose from, you know. I can basically go with whatever I want,” he said of his options. 

That said, he plans to remain a Nike athlete "for a long time". Their marketing machine is just too powerful to turn away.

As for his thoughts on the golf’s return to the Olympic Games in Rio, he said was pleasantly surprised to be “somewhat proven wrong” even if he saw little more than the last five minutes.

On the success or otherwise of his major-less season, he admitted that he can “salvage” it and make it “somewhat of a successful season" by winning a few times before Christmas.

Curiously, his golf bag — the one that was at the centre of his break up with Horizon Sports Management — was mentioned for the first time in any significant way since it came up in the Commercial Court in Dublin a few years ago.

Q. The decision by Nike to pull the plug on their equipment manufacturing, does it affect the business side of Rory McIlroy? Does that mean you won't have a Nike bag? Will you be more marketable?
RORY McILROY: Nike don't own my bag anyway. That wasn’t part of the deal.

Sponsors such as Santander and Bose have made appearances on the famous bag since but it’s been pretty much festooned in swooshes for 18 months. Perhaps now that Nike is out of golf ball and equipment manufacture, he will find a suitable corporate sponsor. His Buick.

Whatever about his bag, he’s got a new putter in it this week as he bids to make in-roads in the world rankings and the FedEx Cup now that he’s fallen to fifth in the world and and plans to stick with his Nike clubs for the foreseeable until he spots something new and possibly signs a deal.

I’ve got them to save me three years’ worth of golf balls, so at least I’ve got a golf ball that I like.
— Rory McIlroy's first concern after Nike pulled the plug and gave him two hours' notice.

There is certainly no shortage of pretenders. 

“Yeah, I think we’re all still trying to figure it out,” he said. "I think that’s the thing. I'm very happy with pretty much everything. I think everyone knows, I've made a change in putter, but I think that was inevitable after my performance at Baltusrol.

"So yeah, I'm happy with everything so far. I’ve got them to save me three years’ worth of golf balls, so at least I've got a golf ball that I like and that I know that I can play well with.

"Yeah, it was a shock to all of us. I got a call two hours before it was announced. I'm happy with everything. I'm hitting the ball well. That's not the issue. My issue over the past few months has been I just haven't been able to get the ball in the hole.

"We'll see where we go from here. I'm not going to commit to anything. I wouldn’t be surprised to see me not go with manufacturer for a year or two, just sort of play with what I want to play, play with what I’m comfortable with, and go from there."

Asked if he’d start replacing his equipment with a new brands “piece by piece” he said: “Not piece by piece. I haven't been home, but apparently my parents' house has been inundated with golf equipment from different manufacturers. I haven't asked for it, but it's there. (Laughter).
"Again, I'm happy with everything right now. I don't think it's the time or the place to change what I feel like I'm very comfortable with. Obviously working with the Nike guys over the last number of years, they have gotten to know me and my specific tendencies and what I like in golf clubs. No reason to start changing just because I can. I'm comfortable with everything.
“I wouldn't say it's piece by piece, but I might start tinkering a little bit in the off-season and see what else is out there. 
"Like I said, I don't really expect to sign with anyone next year. I’d rather just have a year of going and playing what I want and being comfortable, and if I come across something that I really like and I’m really comfortable with, obviously I'll look to sign a longer-term deal."
As for Rio, McIlroy said that he hasn’t been in Zika ridden Florida since June and he saw little more than the last few shots and the Olympic medal ceremony as he was without TV or even elecricity in cabin belonging to his future in-laws in upstate New York.

“So I saw Henrik and Justin’s fairway woods at the last and I saw the chip shots and I saw the putts and I saw the medal ceremony,” he said. "Actually I spent the weekend in my in-laws cabin in upstate New York where there was no TV, no electricity. So actually didn't get to see much of anything that weekend. But we got back Sunday afternoon, so caught up with it.

"Yeah, obviously it pleasantly surprised me. There was more people at the golf events than there was at the athletics. It was good to see, it really was. It seems like it was a great atmosphere down there. I think it was one of the cheaper tickets, as well, and I think that encouraged a lot of people to go.

"Obviously it was well supported down there, and I think Justin was a great winner. He was on board from the start. Even you go back years and see his quotes about it, and he was really excited to play and looking forward to play. So I think it was the right winner in the end, as well.”

Asked if it changed his mind about golf not belonging in the Olympics, as he said so vehemently in Troon, he had to admit it was better than he expected even though he only saw a few shots and the medal ceremony.

"As I said, it was nice to be proven wrong somewhat in terms of, like I thought golf was sort of going to get lost a little bit. It was away from the village; I thought it was going to, yeah, just sort of blend in with everything else and be, not forgotten about, but just one of a lot of sports that are there obviously. But to see the crowds and see the turnout, I was glad to be somewhat proven wrong.”

McIlroy has had other things to keep him busy, apart from tweeting the word “karma” and then erasing the tweet.

Putting, however, is something he is addressing.

“Obviously I think I was No. 1 in strokes gained off the tee at Baltusrol, but I was near dead last in putting, so obviously that was something I needed to address,” he said. "I think I have addressed it somewhat, and I feel like I’m on the right path. It's going to be a process, because there's a lot of things that I needed to change.
"I got into some really bad habits, and it will take awhile to iron those fully out and get out of them. But I feel like I've made a good start with that. So it was a nice time to sort of do some work on that, but then have a little bit of a break and recharge. I think I’m going to play nine of the next 12 weeks, so it’s a busy stretch for me coming up.”
“I was glad to be somewhat proven wrong.”
— Rory McIlroy on the success of golf at the Olympic Games in Rio

Going into detail about his putting, McIlroy said:

"There's been a few things I've tried to change. Big thing has been the path. I went down to SAM PuttLab and putt face was left and path was left, but it was more to do with what my hands were doing, sort of going up and left.
And obviously with working with Dave over the last few years, it's very much left-hand leading, but the left hand was leading but it was going this way and left and up.
So there's a variety of different putts you could hit by doing that. You could hit a pull if the face matches the path. You could cut it if the face is slightly open but going that way.
So all of a sudden, I was missing -- it's like a two-way miss on the golf course: You're missing putts left, you're missing putts right, and you don't quite know why.
"So getting on that and trying to improve the path will definitely help. And that's just the first part of it. The path is something that obviously if you can address it square and align it properly; if you can get that putter back to square at impact, then you've got the best chance of obviously starting it on line and it's just about giving it good speed and giving it good read.
"So technically, I feel like I've come a long way in the last few weeks. As I said, I feel like there's a bit to go and it's process, but I feel like I've made a good start. I feel like with the putter change to a mallet, it doesn't encourage that face to close that much, which is the bad putt I was getting. So just sort of encourages the face to stay a little more square through impact.
Rory McIlroy, Nike athlete

Rory McIlroy, Nike athlete

Winning fixes everything and having won the Irish Open — a win he described as being “a very emotional win and something that meant a lot to me” — he’s major-less and WGC-less.

“Obviously the two missed cuts at the majors were very disappointing, especially the way I missed the cuts,” he said in answer to those who have suggested that he deliberately missed the cut at Baltusrol. 

“I should have played the weekend in both of them, and I sort of threw it away. Look, it hasn’t been the year that I wanted, but I still feel like there’s enough golf left this year to salvage it and call it somewhat of a successful season.”

Going back to Nike, he says he will maintain that relationship even if he has to look elsewhere for his hardware.

"But yeah, look, I fully expect to stay with Nike for a long time. They are a great company to work with. I've had a really good experience with them. Even not just from the golf side, but the different areas that they can put you in.

"I've been a face of Nike Training, which I've really enjoyed, and I've sort of crossed into other sports, and they have exposed me to other things. I think only a company like Nike can really do that, so I've been really happy with that side of it."

The Ryder Cup is another hot topic with Darren Clarke saying in Denmark that up to seven players were vying for his three wildcards.

While that will likely require an impressive win for Shane Lowry to have a chance, Russell Knox may also nervously watch the performances of Graeme McDowell or Luke Donald, not to mention Soren Kjeldsen. 

“We’ll be well-dressed,” McIlroy joked when asked for his view of Clarke the captain.
"No, I'm looking forward to playing under Darren. He's a fun-loving guy. I think he really wants to make it as enjoyable as possible for all the guys. Especially we're going to have at least five rookies on the team, so you're going to have to try to make them as comfortable as possible, and that's not just Darren's job. That's the job of some of the guys that are more experienced.
"I mean, this is my fourth Ryder Cup, and I feel like I've gained a lot of experience over the past three, so hopefully I can impart some of that knowledge to some of the guys that haven't played.
"But Darren will be really good. He's involved everyone in terms of especially what's going to happen next week with the picks. He's been in touch with everyone and sort of give everyone his thoughts and bouncing ideas off people. He's been really good so far in that.
"I think he's going to be a great captain, and especially for as long as I've known him, it's going to be special for me to play under him, because I've known Darren since I was ten years old. For him to be a Ryder Cup Captain and me to be playing under him is pretty cool.”

For McIlroy, Paul McGinley is the gold standard of Ryder Cup captaincy.

"I definitely think Paul McGinley is the best captain that I've played under and I knew he would be, because I played under him in the Seve Trophy in 2009, Continental Europe versus Great Britain and Ireland, and I really liked his attitude towards it.

"He took a lot from -- his whole philosophy was what Bernhard Langer's philosophy was at Oakland Hills in 2004 about being the underdog and playing the underdog role. Even if we were favourites at Gleneagles, still having that underdog mentality, that's something that's very important, I think. Because if you look at the overall record of The Ryder Cup, it's United States 27 and Europe or Great Britain, Ireland, whatever, 13. So we are still a long way behind. So we can still be quite comfortable with that underdog role.

"McGinley was great. He left no stone unturned, and I feel like he left a blueprint for other European captains to follow, and I feel like Darren has followed that pretty closely. I see no reason why this captaincy won't go like the last one.

"Obviously it will be harder. It's a very young, hungry U.S. Team, guys that have made it a priority to win The Ryder Cup this year. I mean, Jordan has openly said that's his biggest priority this year. You've got guys that are going in there that are really hungry and want to, and it's going to be tough for Europe away from home. But we’re going to give it our best shot.”