Realizing what’s important helps Rory break through

When he knocked in his last putt to close the deal on the PLAYERS Championship on Sunday—mercifully killing off the dominant story of 2019—Rory McIlroy showed little emotion.

He didn’t exult or act like he’d got a monkey off his back by finally winning after so many close calls that had the chattering classes of golf wondering if the four-time major champion had lost his ability to win when in contention.

Going back to last year, McIlroy had been in the final group nine times, but was unable to get it done. That he had finished in the top six of his first five tournaments of 2019 seemed lost in the mix.

On Sunday night, he explained: “Of course, I desperately wanted to win today, but it’s just another day. It’s just another step in the journey.”

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He didn’t always have that perspective. On The Golf Channel on Sunday night, McIlroy admitted that as the number of wins started to trickle in the last few years, he increased the pressure on himself by equating his self-worth with his golf scores.

It’s a reminder that even the greatest players in the world are not immune from destructive and common mindsets.

“I think what’s relieved pressure is the fact that I don’t define myself who I am as a golfer anymore,” McIlroy said. “I’m very comfortable with who I am as a person, and I’m very comfortable with who I am as a golfer. I used to shoot 65 and be happy, and shoot 75 and be sad. Well, no, you need to have better perspective than that.”

In the last few years as winning became more difficult for McIlroy, I thought that he must be a very grounded person to keep coming so agonizingly close, graciously answer questions from the media, tee it up the next week and undergo another barrage of questioning.

It’s takes an exceptionally strong person to do that. We live in a results-oriented society. Thus, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of constant self-judgment, which can keep us on an emotional roller coaster and in a spiral of rumination.

But in his comments on The Golf Channel, he went farther than I’ve heard him before, explaining his transformation as a person and a player, and revealed the depth of his character in the process.

“I’ve got to a point where I’m more comfortable with myself. And I think a by-product of that is being comfortable with (whether) I shoot 64 or 74 out there, and at the end of the day, the people who love me are still going to love me, and I think that’s an important part of having perspective on life and the career that I have as well.”

Forging a path in alignment with your values is hard work, especially when you’re in the media spotlight. It’s why he’s paid the big bucks, but it’s encouraging to see a celebrity athlete open up so sincerely about what really matters.

I hope this is the new dominant story.

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!