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Rory McIlroy proves himself to be the heartbeat of this Ryder Cup

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Rory McIlroy proves himself to be the heartbeat of this Ryder Cup

    Written by Cameron Morfit @CMorfitPGATOUR

    GUIDONIA MONTECELIO, Italy – Rory McIlroy surprised at this Ryder Cup.

    “I think my best Ryder Cups have been hatless,” he told GOLF’s "Subpar" podcast a few weeks back.

    And yet there was a be-capped McIlroy sitting with his victorious team and explaining how they’d won 16.5-11.5, from the fireside bonding session to McIlroy brushing up on his Marcus Aurelius before taking on Sam Burns.

    “I've studied Stoicism for a while and read a lot of those sort of books,” McIlroy said. “I just thought as a former emperor of Rome and seeing that we are in Rome, I thought it would be a good time to revisit some of his thoughts, and I revisited them on the way to the course today.”

    In a competition where emotions can sometimes boil over, McIlroy collected himself after a wrenching finish Saturday – Patrick Cantlay making three straight birdies as he and Wyndham Clark flipped their match to beat McIlroy and Matt Fitpatrick – to handle Burns, 3 and 1.

    McIlroy made eight birdies to run his record to 4-1-0, atoning for a teary, one-point performance at the ’21 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. Soon his Foursomes partner Tommy Fleetwood was fending off Rickie Fowler, 3 and 1, to put Europe over the 14.5-point threshold needed to reclaim the Cup.

    Team Europe wins 16.5 - 11.5 at the Ryder Cup

    With the outcome assured, McIlroy and pal Shane Lowry embraced, fans broke containment beyond the gallery ropes, and the celebration was on. Even at hilly, hot Marco Simone Golf & Country Club, where playing all five matches was always going to be a chore, McIlroy was at his best, and Europe was back. The 24-time PGA TOUR winner crouched down and kissed the ground, the tears welling up.

    “I think because you realize how bad it feels when you lose them,” he said, when asked to explain his emotions. “I think as time goes by, this is my seventh Ryder Cup; am I going to play in another seven? I don't know. I'm probably on the back nine of my Ryder Cup career, and every one that I get to play in from now on is very, very meaningful.”

    Shane Lowry looked over his shoulder at McIlroy, who is only 34.

    “I’ve made the turn,” McIlroy said with a laugh.

    He didn’t appear to be on the back nine of anything. One of two Europeans (Viktor Hovland, 3-1-1), and three players overall (Max Homa, 3-1-1) to play all five matches, McIlroy sat back and savored a Peroni beer in the winners’ press conference, surrounded by his friends and teammates. They spoke of playing for those who mean the most to you, with Europe Captain Luke Donald blinking back tears as he spoke of his late parents. They spoke of playing for each other, their connection to legendary golfers of the past, and the short videos Donald had made them.

    Far from stoic, McIlroy appeared moved by all of it. He listened intently to the others, nodding.

    “Sharing the week, sharing the course with these guys, having Fitz and Tommy as my partners this week, and just everything that we do as a team,” he said. “I mean, it started probably a year ago when Luke took the captaincy.

    “You know, the team started to take shape,” McIlroy continued, “and we did that practice trip here a couple weeks ago, and everyone would probably agree with me but we sat around the fire pit that night and we chatted and we got to know each other really well.”

    They did not want a repeat of what had happened in Wisconsin two years ago, where the score line, 19-9 in favor of the U.S. Team, wounded them all, but especially McIlroy. For while there is nothing better than winning a Ryder Cup, he said, there is nothing quite so painful as losing one – especially having underperformed, as he felt he did.

    This time around, he vowed to do better. He focused on his own matches, but marveled, too, at the way the team coalesced, finding affirmation in the performance of rookies like Ludvig Åberg, who not long ago was in college. He praised Donald and said they’d be lucky to have him lead the team again at Bethpage Black in ’25.

    Luke Donald’s emotional interview after Team Europe victory at the Ryder Cup

    At one point, McIlroy looked to his right at Jon Rahm, wondering why “the best player in the world” had not been asked any questions yet. He saw his teammates with fresh eyes.

    “I got to know something different about them,” he said of their time around the fire, a byproduct of their scouting trip that turned into far more than an ancillary benefit. “I think that really galvanized us as a team, and I think just spending time with these guys is becoming more meaningful because I know I don't have that many left.

    “To see guys like Ludvig come in here and be an absolute stud and take everything in stride,” he continued, “I wish I was in his position again, looking forward to playing in 15 or 20 Ryder Cups ... But all the rookies … have been absolutely amazing, and I'm just so proud to be a part of this team. It is – it's very, very meaningful.”

    Cameron Morfit is a Staff Writer for the PGA TOUR. He has covered rodeo, arm-wrestling, and snowmobile hill climb in addition to a lot of golf. Follow Cameron Morfit on Twitter.

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