It’s no secret that Rory McIlroy is a bit special when it comes to getting that little white ball to drop below ground level. It’s kind of been that way for most of his 27 years on planet earth.
But the beautiful golden chalice that is the Samuel Ryder Trophy can do funny things to great men, and even one of the most prodigious talents Europe has ever produced is the first to admit that The Ryder Cup is an entirely different proposition to any other golf tournament.
There can be few better indicators of The Ryder Cup pressure scale than McIlroy’s admission that, even as a double Major champion and the world’s best player, as he was at Medinah four years ago, he still didn’t feel like one of Team Europe’s leaders.
Four years on from that miraculous weekend at Medinah, McIlroy is a different animal. Older, wiser, fitter, stronger and more resilient than ever (with another two Majors and another Ryder Cup in the bag), the boy has become the man who will look to inspire Darren Clarke’s European team to an historic fourth successive victory in the melting pot that is The Ryder Cup.
“I want to be the guy that the team can look to get some inspiration from, and hopefully if I can put blue on the board early the guys behind can follow and hopefully we can win another Ryder Cup,” said the Northern Irishman, who is on the road back to his imperious best after a recent change to his putting stroke helped him win the Deutsche Bank Championship on the US PGA Tour and put him in contention to win Sunday’s Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup.
“My role has changed a lot at The Ryder Cup,” he reflected. “I wasn’t comfortable at the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in 2010 or at Medinah in 2012. I felt even though I was number one in the world at Medinah in 2012, and I’d come off the back of a great run of golf having just won a Major, and a couple of FedEx Cup events, that I still wasn’t a leader of the team.
“I still felt a little bit in my shell, so it wasn’t until Gleneagles again going back to The Ryder Cup as World Number One where I felt ‘ok I need to take responsibility here’, and I need to be the leader of this team going forward. I became comfortable with that role at Gleneagles, so next week I hope it will be the same.”
Clarke’s captaincy is another compelling reason for McIlroy’s desire to inspire at Hazeltine.
Two of Northern Ireland’s greatest ever sportsmen, McIlroy has known Clarke since he was the curly-haired kid from Holywood whom everyone said was the greatest talent since Tiger. Clarke became something of a mentor for the young Rory, and was always on hand to advise the McIlroy family on any golf-related business.
He said: “We’ve got a great captain in Darren Clarke and I think it will be so cool for me to play under him in a Ryder Cup. I’ve known Darren for nearly 20 years, so to play in a Ryder Cup with him as Captain is going to be really special for me on a personal level.
“I feel like if I can go out there and lead by example and replicate what I did at Gleneagles, then I can play a strong role in the team. It won’t be quite as easy next week as we’re playing away from home but, as I said earlier, I really want to be the guy that the team can look to for inspiration.”