Rory McIlroy on “Being” Confident

Rory McIlroy made a double on the 14th hole at the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio, and still shot 9-under 63. That gave him a 3-shot lead over the trio of Paul Casey, Bubba Watson and Chris Kirk who all shot 6-under 66.

This was interesting for McIlroy who just won in England last week on the European Tour. It was the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and a big part of it was just “being” confident:

“I don’t think it’s anything more than just being confident with my game.  I was expecting this to happen.  I’ve been playing well.  I’ve been posting good numbers, good rounds.  And I knew my game was close.”

“Being” confident isn’t just a state of mind, it is a “way of being” that is confident. The best example of this was Tiger Woods at the peak of his dominance. He didn’t just arrive at a tournament thinking that he was going to win or hoping that he was going to win. He arrived “being” the winner in all his deeds, mannerisms and actions. And for years, every other player, just by looking at him, knew that they were playing for second place. 

There were a couple of cleverly phrased questions in McIlroy’s interview that never mentioned his ex-fiancee, Carolyn Wozniacki, by name or that he had just broken off their engagement. But the thrust of the exceedingly polite questions was how could he play with “outside distractions” on his mind or did they help to focus his mind a little tighter?

“And honestly I don’t think it’s anything to do with what’s happening off the golf course.  It’s just I’ve been trending in the right direction, and it’s starting to all come together.”

“I think it is just a continuation of playing well last week in Wentworth.”

And then there was the long flight from England that caused him to feel like he had entered into a whole new milieu, a feeling he might not have experienced if he had, instead, gone on to the next European Tour event in Sweden:

“And I think it feels — with the long flight and with having a few days, it feels — I don’t know, it’s almost if I had went and played in Sweden this week on the European Tour, I don’t know if I would’ve played as well, but because of the long flight and the travel and everything, you — Monday seemed like a long day and it just sort of felt like when I got here it was just a different tour.  You’re getting ready for the U.S. Open.  It’s a big tournament, the Memorial in itself.”

But as it always does, it all comes down to, did you do the work?

And I prepared well.  I came here early Tuesday morning, practiced, did a good session on the range yesterday after the Pro‑Am in the afternoon, so I’ve been putting a lot of work in, and it seems to be paying off.

But isn’t it also true that most players, even when they’re playing great, experience a letdown after a win? How did he come back with a 63?

“Yeah, after a win.  I think you’re always fearful of a letdown after a win when it’s either new to you or you haven’t done it in a while or whatever.”

“But I think the confidence that a win gives you and you’re making a lot of birdies and all you’re seeing is trying to hit the ball close and make the putts.  I’m not saying the game feels easy, but you’re on a roll where you have momentum and you’re looking to get under par and you’re looking to shoot low scores.”

“But I’ve won 12 times in my career and six on the PGA Tour.  But I think I’m used to winning enough now.  I know how it feels; that going into the next week there shouldn’t be a letdown, it’s just keep it going, keep doing the right things, and keep shooting low scores.”

And finally, McIlroy got into an interesting discussion about how he knew his game was close to winning form even though he wasn’t shooting good scores:

“I was hitting a lot of quality shots.  I was hitting like a lot of iron shots close, I was making a lot of birdies.  And I know my game is close when I’m making — maybe making six or seven birdies in a row but shooting 1‑ or 2‑under.”

“I know my game is close then because it’s much easier to limit the mistakes than it is to go out and have to find birdies somehow.”

“If you’re making two birdies a round and then a bogey and it’s a little — you can’t quite get going, and I think I alluded to that a few weeks ago:  It’s much easier to limit the mistakes than it is to go out and try to find these birdies.  And I’ve just been able to do that a bit better the last couple of weeks.”

This idea is relative and scalable. If you’re a 10-handicap and suddenly find yourself making a lot of birdies but still playing to your handicap, you’re not in a rut. You’re on the verge of becoming a single-digit handicap. Keep the faith and keep looking forward.

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