A wiser, more experienced Rory McIlroy is finding the right way to improve

It was a great way to start the season, winning the CJ Cup @ Summit. It’s pretty special as my 20th PGA Tour win. During the past few months, I feel like I’ve never worked as hard yet I didn’t get what I wanted out of it. I guess I just needed to be a little better with what I practise and when I practise.

The whole week leading up to that win, all I did on the range was to try to visualise every shot that I hit – try to see draws, see fades, see high, see low and really just play around with it. The more and more I do that, the more it feels comfortable on the course, and that to me is playing golf. That’s getting back to hitting shots and, when it boils down to it, that’s all you need to do out there – hit the shots. Sometimes I forgot about that in a quest to try to be too perfect, but it was a great reminder you don’t need to be perfect to be a great golfer.

On the Saturday night of the Ryder Cup, I was done with golf. I didn’t want to see golf again until 2022. Then I talked about that Sunday singles match where I beat Xander Schauffele and that sparked a little bit of a flame again. I think I figured something out, and said to myself, “Maybe play a few more times before the season’s done.” On the Sunday night at the Ryder Cup I thought, Let’s go to CJ and try to build on this little bit of a breakthrough.

All I wanted to do in the match against Xander was win the point for the team. That’s all I could do, and I hadn’t done much else the rest of the week. I went out and won my point by doing whatever I could. I wasn’t trying to be perfect; I wasn’t trying to hit shots that I wasn’t comfortable hitting. I just went out there to try to win my match, and I did. I think part of the emotion at the end of it was to do with that week, but it was also probably to do with the previous few months in terms of searching and trying to get better and the realisation that I don’t need to search for anything. It’s all right here.

During the broadcast interview, I said I’ve realised that just being me is good enough and maybe in the past few months I was trying to add things to my game or take things away from it. I know that when I do the things that I do well, this is what I’m capable of. I’m capable of winning a lot of events on the PGA Tour and being the best player in the world. It’s just a matter of me getting back to playing golf and playing golf my way. That starts with being creative and being visual and sifting through the technical thoughts and maybe not being as technical with it.

Golf is about moving forward – there’s always next week and you’re always trying to get better. It’s a very long-winded way of saying 20 wins seemed like a long way away when I turned pro all those years ago. The CJ Cup was about my 30th worldwide if you count European Tour wins, so it’s been a pretty nice career so far.

I remember when I turned pro in 2007, I went down and played the Australian Masters at the end of that year. I got my European Tour card and on the first two days, I was paired with Aaron Baddeley and I think he was like 18th in the world then. I was thinking, Oh, my God! This guy is 18th in the world. How cool would that be?

Before the start of the CJ Cup, I was the 14th-ranked player in the world and basically people were wondering if I was going to retire! It’s all relative. As a kid starting out, I remember those two days with Aaron and we both played really well. He was having a great year and I, as an 18-year-old, really looked up to him and was thinking, Hopefully, one day that will be me.

That’s what I thought was an achievement at the start of my career: to get into the top 20 in the world. So I’ve surpassed all of that, but as you go on, you have to reframe your goals and you have to keep resetting. As I’ve gone along in my career, I’ve had to do that because you just keep going. You can’t stagnate and stay the same, you have to try to keep getting better and keep doing more things. I think that’s what this is.

Winning in Vegas is obviously a great way to start the 2021-2022 season in the US, but I prefer to go by the calendar year in terms of wins, so it was nice to get a second one this year after winning the Wells Fargo Championship in May. I think to get a win most years that you play is good, but I still want to get back to that point where I’m knocking off three, four or five wins a year. To have multiple wins in 2021 during a year that I would say was a bit of a down year for me, it’s still been pretty good.

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