Rory McIlroy is in zen state of mind despite all the noise around the Masters at Augusta National this week.
McIlroy won the Players championship a few weeks ago making him the logical favourite for the Masters, but his history of near-misses including the infamous fade-out of 2011 may dissuade some observers. To the man himself, it’s all the journey.
“It’s not just about one week,” he told the media at his Tuesday media conference. “This is a lifelong journey of trying to improve and learn and trying to master my craft, which is golf. That’s what I’ve chosen as what I want to do with my life, and that’s a lifelong pursuit; it’s not just one week a year.’’
McIlroy’s media conference was impressive to say the least. It might not necessarily help him when the pressure ramps up this week but he remains one of the most interesting people in a game populated by too many automatons.
The man from Northern Ireland for instance has taken up juggling three balls at a time as part of his preparation. Watching some coverage of the women’s event at Augusta National last week he noticed a few of the players doing the same. “It’s catching on,’’ he said.
Before the last round at the Players, he meditated for 20 minutes, although he was quick to put it in perspective. “I’m not going to live with the monks for a couple of months in Nepal or anything like that.”
Generally, it’s 10 minutes a day of quiet focus. “It’s not as if I’m being consumed by it but it’s something that has helped from time to time. Especially in situations where you need your mind to be right.’’
His team includes the US professional renowned for his putting, Brad Faxon, and Clayton Skaggs, medical director at the Central Institute for Human Performance in Jupiter, Florida. He talks about the three Ps – perspective, persistence, poise. He’s been reading a Steve Jobs biography, but he often draws on ‘The Greatest Salesman in the World’ by Og Mandino.
He’s also been reading ‘Digital Minimalism’ by Cal Newport, a book that advocates a more sensible use of modern media, and he notes that there will be the usual absence of mobile phones at Augusta this week, the club continuing to hold firm on its ban on cell phones. “There’s something to be said for that and I think people can learn from that,” said McIlroy.
It’s all working for him; this is his best-ever start to a season. “I think if anything it’s just focusing on the small things, and not living and dying by results and not getting caught up in trying to play perfect golf,” he said. “Maybe a little bit more acceptance and a little bit of a change of attitude which I think is one of the biggest keys to how I’ve played to start the year.’’
If he wins, he will become just the sixth man to win all of the four men’s majors, joining Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan and Gary Player. He’s been one short of the set since 2014 (along with Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson of current-day players) but it’s an event that has tortured him before, especially in 2011 when he took a four-shot lead into the final round, still led by four on the 10th tee but imploded to shoot 80.
“I keep saying this: I would dearly love to win this tournament one day,” he said. “If it doesn’t happen this week that’s totally fine. I’ll come back next year and have another crack at it. But I’m happy where everything is: body, mind, game.”
McIlroy will play alongside Australia’s Cameron Smith and Rickie Fowler on Thursday and Friday.
Marc Leishman goes with Charley Hoffman and Louis Oosthuizen.
SIGNIFICANT TEE TIMES FRIDAY (Australian eastern time)
12.09 am Adam Scott
12.42 Marc Leishman
1.04 Tiger Woods
1.15 Cameron Smith, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler
3.38 Jason Day, Dustin Johnson
3.49 Phil Mickelson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose
4.00 Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka