Rory McIlroy is the new face of golf. Having burst onto the scene at the age of just 18-years-old, the once hotly-tipped amateur has evolved from child prodigy into a four-times major winner in the space of less than decade.
For an individual sport, the feats that Rory has achieved place him in the most exclusive of company. The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is only a Green Jacket (presented to the winner of The Masters) away from holding a career Grand Slam.
But this isn't to say that everything has gone perfect for the young man from Holywood. After winning two majors in 2014 alone, he's been unable to consistently replicate that same level of success and avoid injuries hampering his progress to evolve once more into one of the greatest of all time. But time is on his side.
Fresh from a spirited final day fightback at The Open, we sat down with Rory for a chat, who was sporting Nike's new AeroReact technology, to find out what his inspirations and distractions are in life.
The Open showed signs of an encouraging return to form for you. How do you reflect on your performance?
I think directly after I was disappointed because I felt like I played my way back into the tournament on Friday and I had a chance to really challenge and Saturday just didn’t go the way I wanted it to, but then I played a good round on Sunday and shot a good score. I got within four of the lead at one point which I felt if I could have just played the last few holes a little better, I mightn’t won but I could have put a little bit of pressure on the leaders. But as you said it was an encouraging return to form, my last few weeks haven’t been as good. I’m looking forward to the rest of the year now, I feel like I’ve turned a corner with my game and I’m ready to go and challenge and get a few wins before the end of the year.
it’s a very traditional game, and anything to modernise it and to make it a little more with the times is a good thing."
A career in golf is often described as a marathon rather than a sprint, with that in mind what are your ambitions for the remainder of this year?
Yeah, it is. It’s amazing, in September I’ll be on tour 10 years. I can’t believe I’ve been on tour a decade, it’s nuts. It is a marathon not a sprint and I’ve still got another 15 to 20 years in my career where I can challenge for big tournaments and titles. You just have to stay patient. Planning out the next 5 to 10 years is the big thing for me, I feel like that’s really my time, that’s the peak of golfers, once they’re in their late 20s, early 30s that whole period that’s the peak of their career. I’m 28 right now, so from 28 to 35 that’s my window where I can hopefully win a lot more majors and that’s really what I’m focused on. Just trying to prepare as best I can and do everything that I can to make the most of those years.
Nike make some of the best looking golf apparel at the minute. What do you make of the new AeroReact polo?
Yeah, it’s good. I wore it everyday last week, probably wasn’t the best week to showcase it because it was so cold, and it was covered up but it’s great, I’m going to wear that AeroReact material the next couple of weeks over in the states when it’s quite hot as well, but it feels like you literally have nothing on, it’s so lightweight, great in the heat and it looks cool as well. I think Nike when they’ve come out with this blade collar not just in golf but in their other sport as well it’s a different look and I think it’s good, it’s good for the game, definitely for golf, makes it a little more progressive and modern. Which the game needs, look it’s a very traditional game and anything to modernise it and to make it a little more with the times is a good thing.
The way golf clothing is going, you can wear a lot of the same clothing both on the course as well as off it.
Yeah, I’m wearing one of the polos right now but I’ve got a lifestyle jacket on with it and these are obviously golf trousers and a pair of these Course Classics and I feel like I could walk into a bar somewhere and not feel out of place, which is what you want, to be able to wear something on the golf course or the driving range and go meet your mates for a drink and not feel like you look like a complete... [laughs] I don’t know, that helps. But yeah, they’re making some great stuff at the minute and I love the fact that you can sort of wear it anywhere and feel like you’re dressed appropriately.
THE AIR MAX HAS ALWAYS BEEN MY FAVOURITE NIKE SHOE SO TO BE ABLE TO GET THAT IN A GOLF SHOE IS PRETTY COOL."
You wore the Air Max golf shoe last year, which took a classic silhouette onto the course. What do you make of the innovations Nike are making in golf shoes?
I like them. I think the great thing with Nike is they’re able to draw inspiration from different sports or lifestyle stuff, so whether it’s the Air Max or someone in the golf department comes to us with an idea and says they’ve over in the football department they’ve put this piece on a shoe that I think really helps stability or helps something in performance, to be able to draw on that where other companies don’t really have that same ability to do that, I think it’s huge in golf and I think that’s why you see the Air Max golf shoe or you see Jason [Day] wearing those Jordans last week and stuff like that, it’s pretty cool. I don’t think I’d be going quite for the Jordan look but the Air Max, it’s always been my favourite Nike shoe so to be able to get that in a golf shoe is pretty cool.
Speaking of those Air Jordans Jason wore, are there any more styles you want to see cross over onto the course?
I think Roshes would look pretty good, if they could somehow get them stable enough on top. But I think with a golf shoe, it has to look good and at the same time it has to perform pretty well and there has to be some technology behind it. There’s no point just bringing out, like even the Air Max, it’s not like you just took an Air Max and put some spikes on the bottom of it, it needed some support and rigidity in there to support what your foot does during a golf swing so even though it looks cool, there’s technology behind it as well and that’s always the great thing with Nike, they think a lot about this stuff and they make sure everything goes into the shoe to help you perform at your best as well.
You posted a photo of you in Nike Air Max on Air Max Day last year. Do you have many pairs of sneakers at home?
That’s the one shoe that I do have a lot of is Air Max. I have a lot of Nike SB stuff as well, like the Janoski trainer and that’s similar sort of design, so that would be my big thing. I know a lot of the guys collect Jordans, but I’ve never been a big basketball shoe guy.
It’s a big American thing, right?
Exactly, so Air Max is my thing. I wouldn’t be a huge sneakerhead but I have quite a few pairs of Air Max.
I’ve watched a lot of Conor McGregor on YouTube AND he believes what he says, he means what he says, and in sport that’s half the battle."
Talk me through your training regime? How demanding is golf physically?
I think it’s one of the most demanding mentally. Physically you have to be in decent shape and you have to be strong in the right areas to play golf and especially the sort of golf that we play and when we travel a lot, it takes its toll on the body. But you need a strong core, you need to be strong in the right areas, you need to be flexible and that’s something for me that I’ve had a couple of injuries over the past couple of years and it’s stressed to me the importance of keeping in good shape and trying to stay on top of it all the time so you just have to be diligent with it, you can’t be complacent, you can’t just take a few weeks off and not feel like you’re not going to lose anything.
A typical day for me, I get up, I need to eat first thing, so I have some breakfast starting off and then I’ll go and train in the gym and do some sort of mobility stuff before I go out and practice, I have to make sure I do that everyday and warm up properly because that for me if I don’t warm up properly and I put my body through a bit too much in the practice session that’s when I start to get little niggles and aches and pains so I just need to warm up correctly.
Talking of the mental game, you recently said Conor McGregor's "one of the mentally strongest people in sport," how big is the mental aspect of golf and who are you backing in the fight between Conor and Floyd next month?
I think Conor is. I’ve watched a lot of Conor on YouTube and a lot of his interviews, and a lot of his press conferences and he believes what he says, he means what he says and in sport that’s half the battle. In sport, if you believe in what you’re doing that’s makes it so much more difficult for whoever you’re facing, and golf is so mental, having a good mindset is the difference between making cut and winning a golf tournament. It’s that much of a fine line, all between the ears.
Conor’s going to give him some trouble, he’s the bigger guy, he’s going to be unorthodox in there. He’s going to be painting all these pictures for Mayweather that he’s never seen before, he’s going to come in southpaw, he’s going to switch it up, it’s going to be so weird for him, I don’t think Mayweather will be able to knock McGregor out but I don’t know if McGregor’s going to be able to land many meaningful punches on Mayweather. It could be a bit of a non-contest, but hopefully McGregor roughs him up a bit and lands a couple with his left hand and that would make it very interesting.
Would you ever play a round of golf with Conor?
[Laughs] I would love to get him into golf.
TIGER single-handedly did more for golf than anyone else in the history of the game, and people don’t give him enough credit for that. "
It's been well documented that you were a big fan of Tiger Woods when you were growing up. But beyond the major wins, what was about Tiger that made him such an inspiration?
I think Tiger changed the face of the game. It went from in the mid-1990s a traditional, predominantly white... just when Tiger came on the scene it just rejuvenated golf basically. It got so many different people interested, people from different backgrounds, from different areas. He single-handedly did more for golf than anyone else in the history of the game, and people don’t give him enough credit for that. Not just in terms of who he got interested in golf but it made people practice differently, it made people train differently, it made people think differently about golf and that’s what he did for our game and I’m a huge Tiger fan, I always will be and I’ve been lucky enough to get to know him quite well over the years, and call him a friend and hopefully he gets himself back to full health at some point and hopefully we see him back out on the course but even if we don’t he’s done so much for the game already. Golf is in a better place because of him.
You're now that same inspiration to kids today growing up and playing. How important is it that you're giving back to the next generation of golf stars?
It’s huge. Being in a position where you can give back you have a responsibility to, whether that’s giving back to the next generation of golf stars or whether that’s just giving back generally through charitable endeavours or whatever you feel really passionate about. I love to see kids coming through and playing golf, I think that’s one of the great things. That’s a big responsibility for me, and I try to conduct myself in the right way and say the right things. Hopefully I do that for the most part.
How important is music to your warm-up and practice regime? I think I read that you listen to hip-hop to get you pumped...
Hip-hop and house would be my two genres. I’ve always got music on, whether it’s when I’m practicing at home, I usually have music on whether it’s headphones or a portable speaker or something like that. But I’m a big fan of hip-hop, I was a huge fan of 50 Cent growing up, I had his first two CDs “Get Rich or Die Tryin” and “The Massacre,” and I think my Dad knows those two albums back to back because that’s all I listened to in the car when we were driving to different tournaments. I’ve been to see 50 in concert probably like 5 times... Jay Z’s another one, but then the new guys coming through Chance and Kendrick Lamar.
I know you're a big Manchester United fan, what do you make of Jose's side at the moment?
I like it, I think the new signings that Jose has brought in are good. Lukaku and Lindelof looks good. Maybe a couple more signings if we get Perisic and Matic maybe, I thought with Ronaldo’s whole thing I thought we may be able to get him back this summer...
That happens every year though?
[Laughs] I know, I know... Hopefully it happens eventually, and not when he’s like 40 but I think things look good, I think they’ve got a chance to win the title this year, a good chance to challenge for the Premier League, that’s what they should concentrate on. Obviously they’re in the Champions League but it’s going to be so tough, but I think Jose put all his eggs in one basket last year by trying to win the Europe League and he was able to do that but I think it’s probably a year or two early to win the UCL.
Rory McIlroy was talking at the Nike London Golf Club in Greenwich for Nike’s AeroReact polo which he wore in last week’s Open. For more information on the Nike AeroReact visit www.nike.com