With four wins and a rapid rise up the rankings, the world has witnessed a resurgent Rory McIIroy in 2019, with the promise of bigger things to come
The 2019 season has been one of your best yet, with four wins, the FedEx Cup title, and some pretty consistent form. Where does it rate for you compared to previous seasons, and how does it stack up against your own expectations for the year?
The four wins this year have been wonderful. The Players Championship, Canadian Open, the Tour Championship to win the FedEx Cup, and the WGC in China. It’s definitely been a good season.
Wins are, of course, what we’re out here for, but more than that, I think it is the consistency that I brought week-in, week-out that has pleased me most about this year. I think I’ve had 19 top-10s this year. Even when I’ve got off to a slow start, or not been in contention, I’ve often managed to find something after a couple of days and go on to produce a high finish – so that’s been pleasing.
As far as comparisons with other years go, it’s hard to say. I’ve had some great seasons. I won five times in 2012. That’s still the most I’ve ever won in a calendar year. I won four times in 2014, four times in 2015. I won my first FedEx Cup in 2016. I had a couple of injuries in 2017 and 2018, and went through some equipment changes, but for the last 18 months, I’ve felt very settled. I’ve been comfortable with everything – my game, my equipment, my body has been healthy, or healthier, I should say. I struggled with some back problems in my early 20s, and, touch wood, my body feels as good as it ever has at 30.
I’m excited for the future. I feel like this year compares to 2014 and 2015, but I don’t see any reason why I can’t go ahead and have an even better year next year.
Apart from feeling more settled with your equipment, is there anything else you can point towards that has helped your upward trajectory?
My concentration is better and my mental capacity on the golf course is better than it ever has been, and I think that’s been a big key to why I’m able to play more consistently.
I giving 100 per cent to every shot – that’s probably the difference between what I’m like now and perhaps when I first started out on tour. I’m hardily an old timer at 30, but I know that I only have a finite window in which to play my best golf, so even if I’m having a bad day, I’m trying my best over every single shot now. It may sound odd, but that’s not always been the case.
Another change from previous years is that I’ve not been working with my coach at tournaments. Michael [Bannon] and I have done all our work between events. He’ll come in for three or four days of intensive work with me in Florida, and then go off again. At this point in my career the last thing I want to think about when I get to a tournament is my swing. I just want focus on planning my way around the course and focusing on what I’m going to do that week, rather than working on technical issues, so that’s been another positive change from previous seasons.
Obviously you’ve not had results go your way in the Majors of late. Is that beginning to play on your mind?
Winning golf tournaments is not easy, and winning majors is even harder. I don’t think any of us need reminding how hard it is to win on tour. It’s difficult. As golfers, we accept that if you win one out of every ten tournaments you play, that’s going to add up to a pretty successful career. And in the majors, we get four chances a year. I play around 25 tournaments a year, so I think if I continue to play the golf that I’m playing, I’ll have more chances to win majors.
It’s about how you play that given week, and perhaps about having a couple of things going your way, breaks here and there. I don’t feel like you can pinpoint certain weeks to play well. You try and play consistently well every week that you tee it up, and some weeks it’s going to fall your way, and some weeks it isn’t.
I think if I continuing to play this good standard of golf I’ll have plenty of chances to win more majors. I’ve certainly got a lot of great memories to draw on, so hopefully that will put me in a better position to take advantage of if and when I’m in contention.
Apart from winning some more majors, is getting back to world No.1 going to be a priority for you in 2020?
Yeah, look, I started this year eighth or ninth in the world, so to see that progress, and to play so well, and get myself back up to No.2, has been satisfying. I have a great platform going into next year, but I’m going to take a couple months off in December and January to reset my goals, assess where I’m at, and then we go again.
How do you think you adjusted to the new schedule, with the majors coming along in a four-month stretch?
It’s been quite tough. I’m not used to playing that much golf in such a short period of time. I used to play a couple weeks, take a couple of weeks off, play another couple weeks, but I think I played 13 tournaments in a 16-week stretch during the middle of this year. So it’s a lot of golf, and it’s something we’re going to have to get used to. That’s going to be even more compacted next year, when you throw in the Olympics and the Ryder Cup.
The schedule is by no means perfect, but there are so many different stakeholders in the game that’s it not surprising that some things won’t quite always work. Everyone’s got their own priorities. Some sports feed off the anticipation created by having large gaps between their big events, and longer off-seasons, while others are more ‘bang, bang, bang’. Time will tell what will work best for golf.
What did it mean to you to be voted PGA Tour player of the year?
I think that it’s one of the greatest compliments you can receive; for your peers to feel like you’ve done something pretty special, so I was very honoured to receive that award. I think it says a lot about what I’ve put into this year, and it kind of vindicated some of the decisions that I made at the beginning of the season. I had to make some tough choices about where and when I was going to play, and I know had to let down a lot of tournament sponsors and a lot of fans, but I knew that I had to make those decisions if I was going to give myself the best chance of playing my best golf.
So do you think that playing the majority of your season in the States helped improve your consistency?
Yeah, I do. Basing myself in Florida, where I now live, for the majority of the time and not having to travel too far from there definitely helped for the first few months of the year. It’s certainly a schedule that works for me, and I’ll be more or less sticking to that next season, give or take a few events. I don’t want to miss the Irish Open for two years running, so now that that has moved to the end of May, I’ll definitely be making the trip back over to play at Mount Juliet.
Schedule aside, I set out this season to treat every week the same, and I didn’t want to feel like I was putting less importance on some events and more importance on others. I treated every event like it was the biggest week of the year for me, and I think that’s why you’ve seen the improved consistency. I’ve never been there to make up the numbers or satisfy anyone but myself, and that has really helped focus my performances.
Were you disappointed that you didn’t have a chance to win the Race to Dubai title?
No. I’ve won it three times. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to do it, but I hadn’t played enough counting European Tour events to have a chance. When look at someone like Bernd Wiesberger, who played 25 or 26, whatever it is, those are the guys that deserved to be up there with a chance to win.