Rory McIlroy has won 34 times as a professional golfer, including four majors – only the US Masters eludes him, having amassed 18 other PGA Tour victories.
Despite such an immaculate haul of honors, the Northern Irishman believes there is much more improvement to come, hence recent moves to improve concentration. Working alongside coach Bob Rotella has given the 33-year-old star renewed mental vigour, as he tells RSNG…
RSNG You’ve talked recently about a change in your backroom staff, with Bob Rotella coming on board as a mental coach. How has that helped you?
RORY MCILROY, PGA GOLFER “It's ok telling yourself mentally be strong and play with freedom, but if you know you can't make a swing to hit a fairway, you need to get the technical part right, and then you can dial in the mental. That's sort of the process that I've been on.”
RSNG How does it work having a mental coach such as Rotella, linking in with a technique coach, in Michael Bannon?
RORY MCILROY “Essentially we all link in together. There are a few other people in and around the team, and we’re all a package that comes together.
“My former coach Pete [Cowen] is still there too – it’s a progression of the people around you and the potential you want to take out of each session. It’s a combination of all that expertise – then it’s just down to me to put it into practice on the course… the easy bit!”
Sometimes you need to go and throw hundreds of balls down on the range, and hit some and figure it out on your own
RSNG Who has the greatest influence on decisions?
RORY MCILROY “That’s always going to be me. There is no better judge of your own game than yourself, even if you will try to kid yourself that something is right, when it’s not.
“It was interesting – last year I had two weeks in between the Ryder Cup and Vegas, and I feel like I figured a few things out on my own. It was an epiphany in many ways, and it was like that because, for once, I wasn’t surrounded by coaches and advisors.
“Sometimes you need to do that. Sometimes you need to go and throw hundreds of balls down on the range and hit some and figure it out on your own.
“So I guess I went to Vegas with a little more self-belief and I won that tournament, and that gave me even more confidence.
“If anything, Michael is more of a sounding board. I say to him: ‘This is what I’m trying to do, tell me if I’m completely not right’. But again, I’ve played golf a long time. I think I know what I’m doing for the most part.”
When you are playing under pressure you need an outlet and a release – and you’ve got to find it on the course
RSNG How important is the added attention you are now investing in the mental and psychological part of the game?
RORY MCILROY “The work that Pete and I have done in the past was great for helping me perform under pressure, and I’m taking that forward in additional and new ways now.
“Pete put in place a couple of things for me to fall back on when I was playing, and we always made a point, not just of standing by those things, but of assessing and renewing them too.
“When you are playing under pressure, you need an outlet and a release, and you’ve got to find it on the course. You can’t go and sit in the pub, or get the newspaper out, or even put some music on. You’ve got to find the solution within your own space, still with people watching.”
RSNG How do you do that?
RORY MCILROY “For me it’s small reminders about the form I’m in, the shot I played at 3, the round yesterday. It’s about negating every negative by finding a positive; and a positive based in realism.
“In addition, I try to only play the hole I am on, but I will know, after a mistake, there are holes up ahead where I can get back what I’ve lost.
“There is always another shot to be played… right up until you putt out on 18, anyway!
“I have seen so many players who are desperate to run away from a situation on the course, but they can’t, and they can’t find the answer within themselves, and as a result, the round that they’re playing collapses.
"It's satisfying to see the work is paying off, but it's just the start. There's so much more I want to achieve and so much more I want to do in the game. But this is, as I said, nice validation that I'm on the right track.”
RSNG You’ve always been brutally honest and self-critical about your game and have been open about your feelings around the LIV Golf defectors. Is honesty a positive mental strategy for you?
RORY MCILROY “I hope so. I've just got to keep putting myself in position, keep putting myself in there.
“I am an honest person and I call it as I see it – whether that’s LIV, the sport in general, my own performance… the lot.
“If you can’t be truthful to yourself then you’ve no chance.”
WHAT NEXT? Ever wondered how Rory McIlroy hits the ball so far? Read the RSNG.com exclusive interview with the PGA star to find out…