McIlroy to continue aggressive defense of FedExCup
January 22, 2020
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
Rory McIlroy on future challenges in his career before Farmers
SAN DIEGO – Rory McIlroy is done with conservative thinking on the golf course. He’s done with trying to fit a square peg self in a round hole. He’s done with worrying about where he sits in the world rankings.
Of course he came to this realization late last season after missing the cut at The Open Championship in Ireland. And from that point on McIlroy would find a new groove and push on to win the FedExCup. It’s incredible given he’d already won twice prior in 2019 including at THE PLAYERS Championship. And the start to the new 2019-20 season did not slow things down either as he claimed the World Golf Championships–HSBC Champions in China.
After some time off for the holidays, the 18-time PGA TOUR winner has not pulled back from his new aggressive mindset. He will continue to go down the new mental path he has forged, knowing it is his best chance to be the first player to earn the FedExCup trophy in back-to-back seasons and the first to win it three times.
“It doesn't serve me as a golfer to try to be careful, to try to play conservatively or the way maybe some other people play,” McIlroy explained of his lessons learned at Royal Portrush last year.
“I have my own style of play and most of the times it works, sometimes it doesn't, but sometimes I get into situations and I become a little too conservative and I become a little too careful.
“I basically said to myself after Portrush, 'I'm 30 years old, I have basically achieved everything that I've wanted to achieve in the game, like why would I be careful?' Why would I not go out there with the most carefree attitude and think everything beyond this is just gravy. That's something that I've learned, that's a mindset that I'm going to try to replicate each and every time that I tee it up.”
This mindset will also mean McIlroy will approach the major championships differently in 2020. He has obvious desired to win a fifth major, and first since 2014. A win at the Masters would clinch a career grand slam.
“When I look back at the majors that I've won and I've done well in, I've always started well,” McIlroy says.
“Sometimes you go out in the first draw and you're trying to sort of play your way in the golf tournament, make a few pars, play sort of protective golf a little bit and that's never really been in my nature. I'm the other way, right? I start aggressively, and if I do and I play well, I usually keep myself up there in the tournament for the most part.
“So it was just slow starts for the most part that held me back last year and that's something that I'm going to try to improve on this year.”
McIlroy can overtake Brooks Koepka as the No. 1 player in the world again if he wins this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, where he was T5 a year ago. But that is a number he says is not even on his list of goals. Instead he looks at figures like what he achieved last season statistically. He was just the fourth player to finish a PGA TOUR season ranked inside the top 25 in all four Strokes Gained stats (Off-the-Tee, Approach-the-Green, Around-the-Green and Putting).
“When I set myself goals, I set myself goals like - I want to be plus‑one strokes gained approach play… it's all about the process, it's all about the game, it's all about trying to make improvements,” McIlroy said.
“If I do that and I achieve those goals, then hopefully inevitably I get to (world No. 1). The two stats that I have been proudest of over the past year were around the green and putting; I made huge strides in those. For me going forward, I've always driven it well, I've always hit my irons pretty well, but if I can keep those two around the green and on the greens as strong as I did last year, I'll be pretty confident about the season.”
With all this confidence brimming from the Northern Irishman one wonders if there are any challenges he is concerned about as he moves on from being the player of the last decade into this new one. Life always throws curveballs and being relatively recently married McIlroy may one day be tasked with juggling children of his own with his career. This is something many TOUR pros acknowledge can be a steep learning curve. McIlroy, though, has his eyes on the course.
“If you look at when I first came out on TOUR and started winning majors, nearly a decade ago, eight years ago, you could probably count the guys on one hand that played a similar game to the way I played. I think that was part of the reason why I did so well in that stretch,” McIlroy says.
“Now the likes of a Matt Wolff - they grew up obviously watching Tiger a little bit but (also) watching guys like myself and Dustin and that's the type of player that's coming out on TOUR now. So where I used to get to the golf course and think, okay, maybe five or 10 people have a chance, nowadays it's 40, 50, 60 guys that play that sort of game.
“That's going to be the biggest challenge going forward over the next 10 years. There's always fresh blood coming through and new talent. It's trying to keep up with them.”
With this aggressive and fresh outlook, you have to think McIlroy won’t have a problem with that.