AUGUSTA, Ga. — Everyone else thinks Rory McIlroy has come here on a mission to capture the Masters green jacket and complete his career grand slam.
Instead, he sounds like a guy looking for his moment of zen amid the dogwoods and pines.
Actually, he had that moment he was seeking last week, when he came to an empty Augusta National Golf Club to practice and revel in the solitude.
“It’s quiet,” he said. “It’s serene. You could describe it as a spiritual place. When it’s not Masters week, it’s very similar to walking into an empty church. It’s just got that aura.”
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There was a certain aura about McIlroy as he met with reporters Tuesday, and it’s hard to know quite what to make if it.
There he was, one moment talking about the one win in the world that would make him the first European and just the sixth man ever to win all of golf’s professional majors — the Masters, U.S. and British opens and the PGA Championship. He already has won each open once and two PGAs.
The next moment, he was talking about meditation, and cutting dairy out of his diet, and juggling, which he has incorporated into his routine.
Asked for the best book he’s read in the past year, McIlroy mentioned not one but five. Everything from a biography on Apple co-founder Steve Jobs to a book called “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a focused life in a noisy world,” which would seem to cover the literary waterfront.
And, finally, his approach to golf. Which basically sounds like que sera, sera.
“It's not as if I'm coming here not to try and win the golf tournament,” McIlroy said. “But I know if I have the right attitude and I have my goals that I want to achieve this year, the byproduct could be winning this golf tournament.”
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Sounds like — dare I write it? — the process. Somewhere, Nick Saban is giving Rory a golf clap.
“I think the big thing is, I am not my score,” McIlroy said. “I am not my results.”
I am a leaf, floating down the river of life. Or, in the present context, floating down Rae’s Creek. And if one of Rory’s TaylorMade TP5 balls winds up in the creek, too, well …
“I would dearly love to win this tournament one day,” McIlroy said. “If it doesn't happen this week, that's totally fine. I'll come back next year and have another crack at it."
It wasn’t weird. "Weird" would be too negative a connotation to put on McIlroy’s life talk Tuesday. But it was definitely different — miles and miles from your typical jock speak. Even for a sport like golf, which has produced its share of philosophers along with its meatheads. And good on the young man from Holywood (Northern Ireland, not Hollywood) for feeling free enough to talk about the atypical path he is following.
But, as the Irish say, “Story horse?”
As in “What’s up with you?”
Well, he’s recently married, just after the 2017 Masters to Erica Stoll in an Irish castle (seriously, who doesn’t get married in a castle?). Stoll used to work for the PGA Tour and helped Rory get to the course on time during the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah, outside Chicago, when he was so horribly late for his tee time he needed a police escort.
Marriage will change your perspective. So will life in general. At 29, McIlroy isn’t quite that same fluffy-haired, freckle-faced phenom we met about a decade ago. Life will knock you around a bit, even if you are rich and talented.
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Augusta National has knocked McIlroy around. There was the 2011 Masters, when he took a four-stroke into the final round, then hit the mother of all duck hooks between the Peek and Berckmans cabins left of the 10th fairway and only 150 yards down. That led to a triple-bogey 7 and a final-round 80 that dropped Rory into a tie for 15th.
Last year, he was in the final group with ex-University High golfer Patrick Reed, one stroke off the lead. The lusty cheers for McIlroy on the first tee were uncomfortably noticeable compared to the polite but tepid applause for Reed.
But it was Reed who battled the nerves and the field to win by one with a 1-under-par 71 over Rickie Fowler, while McIlroy faded from contention with a 74 to tie for fifth.
Then there is this whole grand slam thing. The pressure on McIlroy has to be mounting year over year, like some unpaid personal debt.
It sounds like he’s trying to avoid it with a little meditation and a little whatever, dude attitude.
“I'm happy with where everything is, body, mind, game,” he said.
You can’t say it isn’t working for him. McIlroy has a win in The Players in March, five top-five finishes this year and is ranked No. 3 in the world.
Maybe we should all meditate on that.