Rory McIlroy almost missed his tee time on Sunday at Medinah in 2012, so he admitted, yes, he has set his watch this week to Central Daylight Time. He’s also set his wit to stun.
In the wake of captain Davis Love III urging the Americans to be the best Ryder Cup team ever, McIlroy — riffing on the Americans’ bureaucratic solution to their long-standing woes — blended the two in referring to “the best task force ever.”
In his news conference Wednesday at Hazeltine National, McIlroy dropped more references to the Americans’ unique blend of frustration and hubris.
“I don’t think it’s hard for us to find motivation, because anywhere you look, whether it be the sea of red you see on the golf course or the comments that are made in the media by the U.S. team or by the captain, that gives us so much motivation already,” he said. “Whenever we are going up against one of the greatest teams ever assembled, that’s motivation enough.
“Just to say: How good a victory would this be if we go out and beat these guys on their home soil? … Look, they are a very, very strong team. But at the same time, we have so many strong players. And if you look at worldwide wins this year, Europe have 12, America has nine. So our team is good.”
Europe probably will fare well only if McIlroy performs exceptionally. He is coming off a victory at the Tour Championship and sounds relaxed and confident even on the cusp of the most nerve-racking event in golf. The 27-year-old from Northern Ireland has grown into a leader on the European team and has taken the lead in needling his opponents, offering constant reminders that the Euros have won six of the past seven Cups.
“Fourth Ryder Cup for myself,” he said. “Never experienced a loss before, and obviously that’s the goal this week again, is to take that Cup home.”
McIlroy took quite a bit of jeering at Medinah in 2012. He needed a police escort to make it to the first tee on time for his singles match Sunday. He blamed the discrepancy between time zones.
The Chicago crowd suspected McIlroy overindulged himself the night before and let him have it.
McIlroy had the last laugh, and took the last bow after beating Keegan Bradley during the Euros’ epic comeback.
The bow was not McIlroy at his most blunt. He got blasted this summer after saying he didn’t feel responsible for growing the game and refusing to play in the Olympics. He admitted this week that he regretted downplaying the importance of the Ryder Cup before he played in one.
“Yeah, I think I underestimated what it was going to be like,” he said. “I made a couple of comments before the 2010 Ryder Cup that seem very stupid now. But, yeah, I had no idea.”
Now he knows how important the event is to the countries and players involved and, whether wielding honesty or gamesmanship, he happily psychoanalyzed the Americans’ desperation to end their losing streak.
“Yeah, look, we both want it so badly,” he said. “But I think there comes a point where you maybe try a little too hard. As much as we talk about our blueprint in Europe, it’s not rocket science. Like, we’re not thinking about it too much.
“The culture of the European Tour is just a little bit different in terms of guys socializing a little bit more with each other.”
McIlroy mentioned Jack Nicklaus throwing a party for the American team. “We’ve never really needed to do that,” he said. “That’s always just been a natural fit for us and a natural thing to do. You can over-team it a little bit and try too hard instead of it just happening naturally.”
While playing a practice round Wednesday, McIlroy joked with his teammates and heard a man dressed like Uncle Sam scream, “Rory, I’m going to haunt your dreams!”
McIlroy smiled and held up his right thumb. At the Ryder Cup, the Euros don’t find much use in worry.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org