Life is good for Rory McIlroy. Really good.
McIlroy just wrapped up a third Race to Dubai title in four years, capping off a four-win year. The world No. 3, however, is looking for bigger and better in 2016.
I caught up with McIlroy recently to talk about his expectations for this season, the Olympics, his involvement with the PGA Junior League, the Rory Foundation and how he handles the constant media spotlight shining on him.
JL: What are your goals for 2016?
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RM: It may seem really obvious but winning tournaments is right up there among my 2016 goals. Winning will always remain a priority. Trying to secure some silverware early in the season is also important because I find that building momentum going into the major season is a must. There’s also my fitness to think about in the New Year and pacing myself for a year that includes, amongst the majors, the FedEx finals and the Race to Dubai, the Olympic games and the Ryder Cup. It’s all building up for quite a year’s golf.
JL: The Olympics are quickly approaching. What are you most looking forward to?
RM: I’ve already started to think quite a lot about the Games. Getting my schedule right in the build-up is crucial but I’m also quite excited about competing for a gold, the atmosphere around the Olympic Village and I can’t wait to get a good look at the Rio course – I believe it’s shaping up really well.
JL: What area of your game are you most focused on improving right now?
RM: Towards the end of each year, I sit and have a look at my stats and see where my strengths and weaknesses lay throughout the season. Right now, I’m happy with where I am with my game and, while all parts will never be working perfectly all of the time, will really only begin to put the smallest tweaks in place when I begin my pre-season routine in Dubai in early January 2016. I’ve no plans to make any changes when I finished the season playing really good golf.
JL: When were you first approached about getting involved with the PGA Junior League? Talk about the importance of junior golf programs in growing the game.
RM: I became involved with the PGA Junior League in 2014 but had been following the progress of the project pretty much since it got underway in 2011. And I can’t stress enough the importance of getting kids involved in golf early. Of course there’s a need to grow the game and produce the next generation of professionals but there is a lot more to golf than making a career out of it. There’s the fitness and exercise element, too, and what’s better than a group of young people having a great time outdoors, whatever the weather? Socially, golf is also a fantastic way for young people to meet new friends, work as part of a team and build the confidence to take to life beyond the golf course.
JL: What advice do you have for younger players starting out in the game?
RM: That really depends on what young people want from golf. If it’s to be a professional golfer and earn a living from the game then, quite simply, there is no substitute for sheer dedication, hard work and a qualified, experienced golf coach. For those not wanting to commit to all that effort, it’s a great game to play as a group of friends while having a bit of fun – but avoid slow play…
JL: Have you talked with Tiger at all since his latest surgery?
RM: No, I haven’t chatted to Tiger recently. But he’s missed from the game and I hope he’s back on the course again competing as soon as possible.
JL: What’s new with your Foundation?
RM: There’s a lot of exciting stuff going on with the Rory Foundation, both with existing projects and some great ideas in the pipeline. At the moment, we’re working with MENCAP, a charity for people with a learning disability. The Rory Foundation is supporting their new, purpose-built centre in Belfast, which is due to open early in 2016. We’re really excited about the centre and the greater amount of people MENCAP will soon be able to support. The Foundation’s work is important to me because I want to give something back to different charities I feel close to. I see myself as being very lucky to be in a position to help out.
JL: Who is rounding out your dream foursome and where are you teeing it up?
RM: Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and my good self at St. Andrews. All of us around the same age, in our prime and playing for a few dollars on the best card… Now that’d be amazing, eh?
JL: Despite the non-stop attention you receive, you have always remained very even-keeled. What keeps you so grounded?
RM: I’m glad to say that being grounded is not something I think about a lot. I come from a very caring family and have a close group of friends and team to support me – I just don’t see any reason for pretention or vanity. If I came across as anything but grounded, those closest to me would be sure to point it out…
JL: What’s one course you’ve never played but is on your bucket list?
RM: I’ve got lots of courses on my list, on every continent. I do get to play some wonderful hidden gems, usually in the U.K. or Ireland, but I would mostly only play these with my dad or a couple of friends. At the moment, I’m really looking forward to getting a run around the new Olympic course in Rio. The highly respected course architect Gil Hanse designed the course, so I’m sure it’ll be a great test that will demand a lot of concentration and imagination to negotiate.