Rory McIlroy believes he has to sharpen his focus on the golf course and stop making excuses if he wants to get back to the top of the sport after a difficult 2021.
McIlroy was World No.1 before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, but has since slipped down the rankings to 14th after a poor year by his lofty standards where he registered just six top-10 finishes and one win.
The toughest moment of them all came at the Ryder Cup, where he struggled badly and was dropped for his first session since his debut in 2010, picking up just one point from a possible four in a losing effort for Europe.
McIlroy gave an emotional interview in the aftermath at Whistling Straits, distraught he couldn’t produce more for his team-mates in a rare show of bare emotion from a man who is known for his level-headedness both on and off the course.
And ahead of this week’s CJ Cup in Las Vegas, the Holywood man expanded on that interview by revealing he told himself some harsh truths about his mindset, and he has discovered that he has to stop brushing off poor performances.
“I think sometimes I give myself too easy of a time and I try to play it off with ‘golf doesn’t define me and I’ve got balance in my life and I’m happy away from the course’,” said McIlroy.
“That’s obviously very true but, if I’m honest, sometimes I sort of maybe use that as a way to lessen the blow if I don’t play good golf.
“I don’t necessarily get that emotional about golf, so I guess in that way (my reaction to the Ryder Cup) surprised me. But, as you know, it’s a very emotionally charged week.
“There was relief I won a point, there was frustration that I didn’t get more out of myself and disappointment I didn’t do more for the team, so there were so many different emotions sort of going through me there and it was all just a little overwhelming.”
The 32-year-old continued: “(The Ryder Cup) is a tough week. You’re playing a Ryder Cup on the road and that’s tough enough in itself, but then whenever you don’t play the way you want to, it’s disappointing.
“But I think it was a good thing for me. I think I maybe realised a couple of things about myself that maybe I had known but I was maybe trying to keep down and not let them out.”
Even though it was a disappointing year on the whole for McIlroy, there were bright spots for the four-time Major champion that he can take into the upcoming season.
There was another win at the Wells Fargo Championship, which had ended an 18-month drought, he was right in contention at the US Open at Torrey Pines and missed out on a bronze medal in a play-off at the Olympics, and there were further near misses in Abu Dhabi and the BMW Championship.
Even the stats look fairly promising. McIlroy led the PGA Tour in birdies last year, which shows that he can still score, it is just the mistakes that are holding him back, along with a growing group of talented players who also have their sights set on that World No.1 spot he so desperately wishes to return to.
“I think when I play my best, I’m the best player in the world. I haven’t played like that for a while, though, but I don’t feel like I need to go that far back to whenever the pandemic hit, whatever it was, 18 months ago, I was No.1 in the world,” he added.
“Obviously the last 18 months haven’t been what I’ve wanted them to be but, if you keep it in perspective, I’m not that far away. And there’s a ton of great players now that play really good golf.
“I feel like the talent pool is just getting deeper and deeper every year, so you have to strive to keep trying to get better to stay where you want to stay.
“It’s not the position I want to be in but, at the same time, there are so many other guys that are trying to do the same thing as I’m doing, and I realise the competition gets tougher each and every year. You just have to try to not just keep up with that, but try to become better.”