Answers don’t come much clearer than the one provided by Rory McIlroy Wednesday (AEST) at the PGA Championship.
Two weeks ago, at the Wells Fargo Championship, he admitted that the stress of the last year had finally hit him; months of serving as the de facto player spokesman for the PGA Tour in the face of the LIV schism wore him down and led to him skipping his second elevated event at the RBC Heritage, fine be damned.
At the time, we wrote that he had a massive choice to make: continue being the man on the microphone, or step back and start a new, quieter phase of his career with the aim of winning golf tournaments.
Today, it seems like we have our answer. An early exchange at his Tuesday presser gave a major hint, and the brevity of that dialogue left very little room for interpretation:
Q. We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of the first LIV Golf tournament. If you could look into your crystal ball three years from now, where do you think the professional game will be?
RORY McILROY: I don’t have a crystal ball.
Q. You don’t want to speculate?
RORY McILROY: No.
That certainly didn’t sound like the McIlroy of 2022, but if there any doubt remained, it was squashed in a later follow-up that put the question bluntly, and was answered in kind:
Q. You mentioned earlier about not having a crystal ball; obviously we all asked you a lot of questions about LIV, and you’ve spoken yourself recently about the burden of that. Is it going to be a conscious thing for you going forward to try and sidestep that narrative?
RORY McILROY: Yeah.
That’s about as clear-cut as it gets. Even the one-word answer seemed to broadcast a message: “Don’t bother asking again.”
For Paul McGinley and others who have long thought McIlroy needed to become more of an inward player in order to maximise his potential, this will be good news; for those who like to hear one of the smartest, most honest players talk at length on important issues, less so.
McIlroy also spoke of his new mental goals, which amounted to lowering his expectations and striving for a more immediate focus on the course. A final question hearkened back to the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla, at the peak of his powers and, as it turned out, the last Major he’d win for nine years and counting. Did he want to find that level of ruthlessness again?
“I find being that way pretty exhausting in life in general,” he said. “It’s not as if I can’t get into that mode, but I don’t feel like I need to be that way to be successful on the golf course.”