The question put to Rory McIlroy was rather benign.
When you’re away from golf now, what do you do to try to stop playing and forget about it?
McIlroy has spent most of the past year as a face in a PGA Tour battle against the LIV Golf Challenge. He has been the driving force behind some of the Tour’s recent changes, most notably the 17 “high events” set by the Tour in order to bring the world’s best players together more often. Increased purses and fines are placed on missing these events in order to ensure that the best players emerge.
But after a brutal Masters tournament in April where McIlroy missed the cut, he opted to skip the RBC Legacy, one of the tour’s high 17 events. He said he needed a break from the game, and damned a $3 million fine.
That’s the backstory to the question posed Tuesday as McIlroy prepares for the 2023 PGA Championship, which begins Thursday in upstate New York.
What do you really like to do?
For eight seconds, McIlroy stood quietly behind the stage, pondering, before finally answering.
He said, “I don’t know, actually.” “I don’t know.”
He eventually came to explain that he had always had a “good balance” in his life, and that he had other interests that “kept me busy and busy. There’s no shortage of that.”
He just didn’t share what those interests were.
It’s become a rite of passage to go over a decade now analyzing where Rory McIlroy’s head is with each upcoming major. That’s because despite all his talent, all the world wide wins, popularity, and appearances atop the world rankings, McIlroy hasn’t won a major tournament since 2014 – a period when he was winless for nine years early in his career. He went from a 25-year-old four-time winner to a major winner who is now 34.
After winning the PGA Championship in 2014 to join Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to have accumulated that many by this age, Nicklaus declared that McIlroy “has a chance of winning 15 or 20 majors or whatever he wants to do if he wants to keep playing.” ” Though, it’s no longer a matter of how many majors McIlroy will win, but if and when he’ll get another win.
This is a bit of a puzzle in McIlroy’s career. Four big wins will put him in the Hall of Fame the day he’s eligible. But if this is where he tops, is his career somewhat disappointing?
“Like, if I don’t win another championship for the rest of my career, I still see my career as successful,” McIlroy said Tuesday. “I still stand here as a successful person in my eyes.”
There is no doubt about that. no one. He is one of the top 10 to 15 golfers to ever play the game. But did he miss the opportunity to not only be great, but to be one of the greats of all time?
Thursday presents Chance No. 32 to get off Schneide Just Four majors. At MGM House, he is again the favourite, behind world number one John Rahm and number two Scotty Scheffler.
“Lower expectations,” McIlroy said when asked about his mental game. “Just trying to kind of be in good shape with taking in what comes and not thinking about things too much, not getting ahead of myself.”
A win this weekend would change the whole story about McIlroy. Anything less, and he’ll face the same questions again in two weeks’ time in Los Angeles, where the US Open takes place in June. Fair or not, those are the stakes for him anymore.