Rory McIlroy relishing his new role as Ryder Cup leader
Northern Irish star aiming to guide Europe’s rookies to victory
Rory McIlroy has embraced his leadership role on Europe’s Ryder Cup squad just as six eager-to-learn rookies join the lineup seeking to defeat the Americans for an unprecedented fourth time.
“I have definitely become more comfortable in that role,” McIlroy said Tuesday. “I relish that role. I understand it’s a big responsibility, but I feel like I’m now ready to take that on my shoulders and hopefully lead by example.”
The world No.3 from Northern Ireland comes off a victory at the US PGA Tour Championship that also brought him the US$10 million season points play-off bonus, edging top-ranked US Ryder Cup player Dustin Johnson, the US Open champion and world No.2, for the prize.
McIlroy said he always felt more comfortable leading by example in younger days and in many ways he did that by outlasting Ryan Moore to win in a four-hole play-off.
“To see Rory showing that fighting spirit and battling the way in which he did was wonderful,” Europe captain Darren Clarke said of his compatriot. “That was a very enjoyable thing for all of us to watch.”
McIlroy’s coming to grips with his need to guide comes after a reluctance to do so in 2012 when Europe made the greatest last-day fightback to win in Ryder Cup history.
“In 2012 I came into the Ryder Cup number one in the world. I had just won my second major. I was playing really well,” he said.
“But I still didn’t feel like it was my place to be a leader on the team. We had so many other players that had more experience and were older than me, so I still didn’t feel like I deserved that role in a way.
“Definitely at Gleneagles last time, I embraced that more and I took more responsibility.”
Now he hopes to guide Europe to a seventh win in eight tries over the Americans and keep the trophy he has never lost.
“I’m confident in my game and I feel like I’m playing pretty well. I don’t know how much bearing it will have on the team as a whole,” McIlroy said. “Fourth Ryder Cup. Never experienced a loss before and that’s the goal this week, to take that Cup home.”
McIlroy has some insight on the newcomers that are most of his teammates – he was a brash newcomer in 2010 sure he could handle whatever the Ryder Cup tossed his way.
“I underestimated what it was going to be like,” McIlroy said. “I made a couple of comments before the 2010 Ryder Cup that seem very stupid now. I thought I knew what it was like, but there’s nothing like walking onto that first tee for the first time and feeling that rush and just soaking in the atmosphere.
“That’s what I’ve tried to reiterate to the rookies on our team. You think you know what it’s like and you think you’ve played under pressure, but you haven’t. You haven’t played under what this is going to be like. It’s just trying to make them ready for that.”
English rookie Andy Sullivan received some simple but wise advice to drawn upon on the first tee.
“Just little things, like remembering to breathe, stuff like that, Rory was saying,” Sullivan said. “Nothing massively influential but again it might help me out in the long run of things.”
And the Ryder Cup can run long. Nine of the past 14 have been decided by two points or less.
“It can be on a knife edge at times,” Sullivan said. “It might be a little bit of a hostile atmosphere, but I think that’s the awesomeness and the pressure you play in and that’s why it’s so good to play in.”
It’s also why poise under pressure and the ability to make crucial shots under immense tension is vital.
“I’ve been able to produce my best golf when I’ve needed it the most,” McIlroy said. “Hopefully I can continue to play the way I’ve been playing and produce quality shots under pressure like you need to in a Ryder Cup.”