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Athlon Exclusive: Rory McIlroy Q&A

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Rory McIlroy may have history on his mind when he drives up Magnolia Lane in early April, but good luck getting him to verbalize it. Golf’s No. 1 player remains steadfastly in the moment, and while he may indulge in a little private goal-setting, he’s not about to broadcast his specific plans for this year’s majors to the world. Writer Bernie McGuire sat down with Rory in Dubai earlier this year, at the dawn of what could be a historic 2015. This interview appears in the 2015 edition of Athlon Sports Golf Annual; order your copy here.

What are your goals for 2015?

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There’s always little goals and it’s always the process goals that are most important. But then it should be obvious what any golfer’s goals are at the start of a New Year: winning tournaments, winning majors.

It’s the little things that you can do in practice and just in everyday life that can maybe help you get to that and be a little bit more consistent and do a couple more things. 

Every year, I’m flying here to Dubai, and I do a week of prep or ten days of preparation in Dubai before this tournament, so I will write my goals down on the back of my boarding pass, and I put it in my wallet and I memorize them. But I don’t look at them until the end of the year. 

So in my back pocket in my wallet is a boarding pass with my goals for this year. I don’t really want to share them with anyone else. They are just my little goals, and I’ll try and achieve those, and I’ll take that boarding pass out at the end of the year and see how well I’ve done.

With The Masters not that far away, do you feel the excitement building, and are there things you’re working on now thinking ahead to Augusta

Even with The Masters just a matter of months away now I am trying not even to think too hard given I seem to be asked about it every week.

But then I’m working on everything that will ensure I am prepared for Augusta. I’m just trying to make everything as good as it possibly can be. But I guess maybe there’s a few things that I’m happy with in my game that, say, if Augusta was to roll around next week, I would be happy going there knowing that I’m hitting the ball the way I want to.

So it’s important just to put in some good performances before that and get into contention and feel what it’s like in the heat of the moment, because that’s when you really know how your game is and how it holds up under some pressure. 

I will have a few tournaments before heading to Augusta to do that and hopefully I can, and that will really let me know where my game is heading into the first major of the year.

In strokes gained, putting on the PGA Tour you went from 117th in 2013 to 41st last year. What did you do to improve?

I figured something out by myself on the sixth green at Augusta on the Sunday of The Masters. My alignment was a little bit off and I just started doing a couple of things in my routine. 

I putt a lot with a mirror that people have probably seen me with on the putting green. I am just trying to put a little more structure around it I guess, and it’s really helped. 

I got to the point at The Masters last year where I really was — I just wasn’t comfortable with it and I needed to go in a new direction and started to work a bit on my own again. I actually consulted my good friend, Harry Diamond, and we worked a little bit on it, when I went home for a couple of weeks after The Masters and I’ve just kept with it ever since.

What area of your game are you looking to improve this year then?

Everything I guess.  One area of my game that I could probably get better at is my wedge play from 80 to 130 yards because I do leave myself a lot of shots from that distance. And if I’m driving the ball well, I feel like for the most part, I do take advantage, but even if it saves me one or two strokes a tournament where I can just get my wedge play a little sharper, it could make a big difference. 

It’s something I’ve been trying to work on a little bit the last few weeks, and you know, as I say, I’m very comfortable with how I’m driving the ball so I’m giving myself plenty of chances. 

So it is from that particular distance and it’s being as efficient as I possibly can converting those chances and not being wasteful. 

"In my back pocket in my wallet is a boarding pass with my goals for this year written on it. I’ll take that boarding pass out at the end of the year and see how well I’ve done."

Does the thought of a single-season Grand Slam ever cross your mind?

I have not thought of winning the four majors in a single season, so I will have to pass on that one.

Who would you pay to go and watch play golf?

Bubba Watson. You will get a whole golf bag full of excitement and amazement watching Bubba play.

Who would say are your best friends on Tour?

Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler, and I get on really well with Keegan Bradley.

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Who would be in your dream foursome?

My dad, Harry Diamond (Rory’s childhood friend) and probably Sean (O’Flaherty), my manager.

Who is the best non-pro you have played alongside? 

I’ve played with a lot of celebrities, some great sports people and some great amateurs, but probably the President at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Jimmy Dunne. He’s a great guy, and I was playing there with Tiger in November and we had a great time.

Who would you choose to hole a 10-foot putt for all the cash?

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Other than myself?  Then Luke Donald.

What is your favorite club in the bag?

My driver. Just simply because of the distance I can drive the ball off the tee and how that club is then so pivotal to every other shot I play at a particular hole when using the driver.

This driver in my bag (the Nike Vapor) is the best driver I’ve had for a long while and I couldn’t be happier with it.

What is a normal workout routine for you?

Sixty minutes in the morning, and with 30 minutes of that working on quads. Though I am watching the clock after 10 minutes, I have to say (smiles). Then around 90 minutes in the gym in the afternoon or early evening.

What is your normal practice routine?

I usually get to the course spending about an hour or so on the range and then it’s the usual procedure like the majority of pros. I might hit a few bunker shots before spending about 20 minutes or so on the practice putting green, so from there I’m ready to go to the first tee.

What impact has Michael Bannon (Rory’s lifelong swing coach) had on your game?

Michael is a pretty good player in his own right, and it’s nice to have chats with him about course management, and if he watches me play a tournament, I’ll talk about, well, I was thinking about playing this shot into this pin but really I should have been playing this shot.

Just little things like that, little tiny, minute details not a lot of people would talk about but that he would pick up on.  He knows my game pretty well; he’s been coaching me for 20 years. 

So I clearly owe a lot of my success to him, and we work really well together. I’m looking forward to catching up with him in Florida in a couple weeks’ time to prepare for the start of the tournaments over there.

Can you talk about your relationship with Tiger Woods?

We had played alongside each other a few times but I never got the chance to really have an in-depth discussion with Tiger until we were grouped together in the 2012 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and it has evolved since then.

I think we have a lot of things in common. We are huge sports fans and that’s a strong common thread in our friendship.

Since that Abu Dhabi grouping it’s been great for me to get to know Tiger better, and I’ve been fortunate playing alongside him many times since then to pick up a few things and learn a few things.

Tiger was a huge hero of mine when I was growing up, so getting to know him and getting to compete against him has always been a huge dream of mine. So now to spend time hanging around with him, and getting to know him so much better, is something I find pretty cool.

He transformed the image of golf. He made it a younger sport and single-handedly attracted more young people to take up the game of golf.

What is your favourite golf course?

Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland.  It is one of the truly great links golf courses.  I sort of grew up playing the course.

I was 16 when I contested the North of Ireland Amateur Open, and I shot a course-record 61. I can still virtually remember every shot I played that day. I missed a 6-footer on the first for birdie, so it could have been even better.

That was nearly 10 years ago and while it’s a different course now, as there’s a few new tee boxes, it’s still a fabulous golf course and such a fantastic setting. I just love so much the chance to play the course.

They’ve made the decision the Open Championship is returning to Royal Portrush, and given the reception the 2013 Irish Open received in being staged at the course, it is just going to be amazing to play an Open Championship on one of the greatest links courses in the world.