'Winning The Ryder Cup At Bethpage Would Be One Of The Highest Achievements In My Career' – Rory McIlroy Talks Exclusively About His Ryder Cup Passion, Pinehurst, Leaving A Legacy And Defining Success

In this exclusive interview, four-time Major Champion Rory McIlroy reflects on his career to date, the Ryder Cup at Bethpage, the year's final two Majors and leaving a legacy...

rory mcilroy doffing his cap with insets of the Ryder Cup and his golf swing
(Image credit: Getty Images)

To say that Rory McIlroy is a thoughtful superstar is a good place to start when describing one of Europe’s great modern players. I’ve been fortunate to cover his career at numerous events in the United States since 2010 and I’ve seen him hold doors open for security guards at Augusta National, accommodate requests from fans and media effortlessly and show over and over again that he’s one of the nicest guys on the tour.

I remember at the 2015 WGC-Match Play in San Francisco, Rory watched a boxing fight in the media centre on the Friday night as he was unable to get to the event proper in time. During the fight, a radio broadcaster named Dennis Paulson face-timed his son and handed the phone to a comfortably seated McIlroy with no warning. Rory sat up and without hesitation grabbed the phone, waved and conversed with Paulson’s son, engaging in a couple minutes of conversation. He rolled with it.

One year at The Masters, I was speaking with Fuzzy Zoeller and Rory approached us and went straight to me, the stranger who he’d never met, and introduced himself. He read the situation and didn’t engage Fuzzy first, thereby leaving me in the awkward position of being the odd man out. It was a little thing, but it revealed a lot about the Northern Irishman’s character. He’s one of the good guys.  

The McIlroy interview I did for Golf Monthly in 2022 was born from a casual exchange I had with him on the Tuesday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. I told him I’d really appreciate a few minutes of his time that week, if possible, and he suggested I walk a couple of holes of the Pro-Am with him that Wednesday. 

For this interview, I asked him in March, again at Bay Hill, if he had time to chat later that day. He said he would be happy to and quickly came up with a specific time that afternoon after his range and putting work. Getting that kind of specific time commitment from most of his peers on the spot is extremely rare.

Below, the popular Northern Irishman talks through various topics, including the Ryder Cup, how he feels about his own game, the hunt for more titles, how he defines success and this year’s remaining Major venues...

rory mcilroy playing a tee shot at valhalla

McIlroy in action during the PGA Championship at Valhalla

(Image credit: Getty Images)

What do you make of the state of your career?
I feel incredibly fortunate that I’ve had such a long career and that I’ve had such a consistent career up until this point. You look at other sports and other athletes and they don’t get the time horizon that golfers get. To be still not really into my mid-30s and feel like I’m not even half way through my career, I feel pretty lucky that I’m in that position.

If you had told me 17 years ago when I turned pro that this is where I would find myself 17 years in, I probably would have found it pretty hard to believe. I’m obviously very happy with how everything’s gone, but I still feel like I have some things to achieve.

Do any of your Major close calls keep you up at night?
No. Thankfully I’m really blessed with an ability to move on pretty quickly. So not at all. I can put things in the rear-view mirror pretty quickly and move on.

Where do you think that comes from?
I don’t know. I think I’ve always tried to live with the idea of keep moving forward and what’s done is done. We can’t go back and change what happened in the past or do anything about it, so I’ve just got to move on and keep looking forward.

What do you make of US Open host venue Pinehurst?
I love Pinehurst No.2 a lot. I played it back in June 2014 and I’ve really grown to like those kind of golf courses where there’s not a ton of rough, there’s a lot of run-off areas and there’s pinestraw. Pinehurst gives you some width off the tee and it gives you options with your approach shots and into greens. 

The greens are so severe and so undulating that you really need to be going into them from the correct side of the hole. Pinehurst is a great test.

And what about Royal Troon, host of The Open Championship?
Troon will be a great test for The Open. Troon can be a tough test at times, though obviously Henrik and Phil really separated themselves last time we played there with some very good golf. I think the Major venues for the rest of the year are great tests and how we have the schedule now, once they start in April they come thick and fast. 

the claret jug next to a flag of royal troon

The Open heads to Royal Troon in July

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Do you think links golf plays to your strengths?
Yeah, I do enjoy links golf, I love the challenge. My Open performances have been pretty good over the last few years. I’ve really grown to like it more and more. I grew up playing links golf and I think sometimes you want what you don’t have. I always liked coming to America and playing courses like Bay Hill and others, but I’ve started to appreciate links golf more and more as time has gone on.

How do you define success for each season?
It is tangible. To me, it’s about how many chances you give yourself to win, and then how many times you convert those chances into victories. Those are the big things for me, because you’re not going to win every single time you’re in contention. To me, it’s about being up on the top page of the leaderboard on Sunday afternoon. The more times I can do that, the more I’m going to think it’s been a successful season.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave?
I hope people look back on my career and reflect that they enjoyed watching me play golf. I’d like to think I was a good player, but also that I entertained people with how I played the game. I’ve always tried to do the right thing, as well. Whether it’s signing autographs for kids, making time in the day for someone or just conducting myself in the right way. When I was a kid, my dad said to always behave as if someone is watching you. So that’s how I try to live my life.

How does Team Europe win the Ryder Cup on the road next year?
I think it’s through building a really good culture around our team. It’s really nice that we have the continuity in Luke Donald as our captain again to lead us to Bethpage and try to do it, so I’m excited for the challenge. I’m under no illusions that it’s going to be really tough. We’ll have to face the New York crowd and we’ll be up against a really strong American team at home. It’s going to be really hard, but we proved in Rome we can do it with a really young team. Hopefully those guys all have a little bit more experience next year at Bethpage. If I were to be part of a Ryder Cup team that won at Bethpage, it would honestly be one of the highest achievements in my career.

rory mcilroy celebrates at the ryder cup

Rory McIlroy is passionate about the Ryder Cup

(Image credit: Getty Images)
Garrett Johnston

Garrett Johnston is a golf reporter and presenter who’s covered pro golf for 12 years including over 30 majors. His goal each year is always to “grow with the rookies” on Tour. The idea is to get to know the superstars before they become household names. Tony Finau, Gary Woodland, and Patrick Reed are just some of the players Johnston has covered from their early pro careers for their hometown newspapers. Johnston’s favorite event is always The Open, and he credits his unforgettable experience covering the 2015 Open at St. Andrews where he got to interview Tom Watson (in his final Open) and winner Zach Johnson exclusively throughout the week as his favorite event so far. Johnston has also developed a strong rapport with Tour caddies and regularly contributes to Caddie Network and Golf.com. He also has his own podcast: Beyond The Clubhouse

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