[PHOTO: Richard Heathcote]
He has four major championship victories to his name. He’s won the FedEx Cup multiple times. Likewise the DP World Tour’s Race to Dubai. He ticked off the Irish Open title seven years ago. We all stopped counting his regular tour wins on either side of the Atlantic some time ago. All are great achievements in the professional life of Rory McIlroy, but for him nothing seems to compare to the Ryder Cup.
Two years from his tearful interview at Whistling Straits, where his 1-3-0 performance didn’t do much to help a team that was en route to a record-breaking defeat, McIlroy was off again at Marco Simone. This time though, any blubbering came in the wake of a 4-1-0 record that was the best on a transformed European side that would soon enough claim victory and redemption.
Adding to the emotion of it all, of course, was what transpired the previous evening. In the immediate wake of Patrick Cantlay making what would turn out to be a decisive 43-foot putt across the 18th green to win their four-ball match, McIlroy became embroiled in something of a contretemps with Joe LaCava, Cantlay’s caddie. Later, there were more raised voices—mostly McIlroy’s to be fair—when the disagreement spilled over into the clubhouse carpark. It was, by golf’s typically decorous standards, an ugly scene.
But one day later McIlroy wasn’t backing down. Speaking behind the 17th green after seeing off Sam Burns 3&1 in the fourth of the 12 singles matches, the Northern Irishman was clearly still irate as he added context to what had gone on.
“Walking off 18 yesterday was probably the angriest I’ve ever been in my career,” he said. “I said to the US guys I thought it was disgraceful what went on. I made that clear. But again, I had to calm myself down. I could have let it take me down the wrong path. But I didn’t. I let it focus me. I read a few quotes from the great Marcus Aurelius, the emperor of Rome [best known for his meditations on stoic philosophy]. That put me in the right frame of mind, along with some nice words of encouragement from my wife. So I was ready to go today. I’m a big follower of stoicism. If anyone was going to get into my head the right way it was probably going to be Marcus.”
OK, but what about the scene in the carpark?
“It was red mist maybe, more than anything else,” admitted McIlroy. “I was actually about to drop my bag and go into the American locker room. I was so angry. But Shane [Lowry] held me back from doing that. The first American I saw was Bones Mackay. I know he is close to Joe, so I let him have a bit of my mind.”
Still animated, McIlroy went on to reveal no one in the American camp other than LaCava had reached out later that evening. But the pair have yet to speak, McIlroy preferring to wait until after the Ryder Cup to have the chat that will hopefully smooth things over.
“It was the fact that on 17 green and 18 green I was telling the crowd to quieten down to let Patrick hit his putt,” declared the world No.2. “I was trying to afford Patrick the opportunity to do what he did. Which is great. Then, I’m trying to line up my putt on 18 and he [LaCava] is standing directly in my way. So I don’t feel like I was afforded the same opportunity to make my putt. I was trying to do the right thing, which was definitely the wrong thing to do. That’s not the way this game should be played, especially not by a caddie… I mean, no one, player, caddie, whatever. It was completely disrespectful. And the angriest I’ve been in a long time.”
Back in more peaceful territory, McIlroy again made it clear just how much this biennial encounter between Old and New Worlds means to him, both personally and professionally. Calling it the “best competition in golf”, he was soon waxing lyrically in what one imagines is true Aurelius fashion. Marcus hasn’t been around since 180A.D. so an exact assessment is difficult.
“This is the best competition in golf,” he claimed. “We never play in atmospheres like this. We never play with as many nerves as this. It means the absolute world to me. I want to be on this European team for as long as I can. I realise I don’t have as many left as I did a few years ago. Every time I put on this blue and yellow jersey I want to make the most of it. I don’t know if anything will be able to top Medinah in 2012. But this victory will be sweet for different reasons. Every Ryder Cup is different. And any Ryder Cup win is amazing. It’s an incredible feeling.
“This team means an awful lot to me,” he continued. “I was so disappointed after Whistling straits. We all were. We wanted to come here and redeem ourselves. We have fresh blood on the team that has worked really well. I just knew that I had to put in a better performance for my teammates this week. Thankfully, I was able to do that.”
• • •
This article was originally published on golfdigest.com