Age: 26 | Height: 5-10 | Weight: 165 lb.
Hardware: Four-time Major winner; two-time PGA Tour Player of the Year (2012 & 2014)
What is it like when everyone expects you to be the best?
I think I went some way toward creating that expectation, so it’s really my job to manage it. Playing well, showing consistency and winning tournaments took me to world No. 1. The next guy has to do better than that to replace me at the top. That’s just how it works.
You won the World Championship in the 9–10 age range. What was that like?
I was only nine, but I’d already put a lot of time into my game. I was also delighted for my mum and dad and Michael [Bannon], my coach. I think I remember we really splashed out after my win—it was ice cream and milkshakes all ’round.
Did it take you years to figure out how to manage your curly hair?
My early hair management was a baseball cap. But there’s very little management involved these days—I just keep it a little shorter.
Were you a good student?
Yes, of course, especially at primary school. But there did come a time at secondary school when I felt I needed to be practising golf rather than sitting in a classroom. Having said that, we generally struck a good balance that allowed me to find time for both schooling and golf. Generally.
I heard you slept with a golf club when you were five.
[Laughs.] I slept with a couple of clubs in my room. I was just a little overprotective of them.
Have you ever played as yourself in a video game? That must be the best.
It’s a little weird being me at the controls and me on the course. I had a little time off in the summer to brush up on my gaming, so I went head-to-head with—against?—myself on a few familiar courses.
How deep is your fandom for Manchester United?
Oh, very. As long as they’re playing well.
If the Tour held an event at your home course, Holywood Golf Club, how many strokes would you win by?
I’m not sure of the figure, but I’d be disappointed if I didn’t win on my home course. I love the place because I know it like the back of my hand, it’s where I spent so much of my childhood. It really was where I spent my early life, from dawn until dusk—when not at school, of course. I just practised or played until I was completely exhausted. I’ve such great, happy memories of the place, and I always visit when I’m back home.
What’s it like when you’re home? Do people go crazy when they see you?
People don’t go crazy when they see me, not usually anyway. They mostly just say, “Well done,” and ask for the occasional autograph or have a bit of fun with selfies—a lot of selfies.
The media loves to construct rivalries. Do you ever roll your eyes at that, seeing who your latest “rival” is?
Yes, of course I’ll brush off any notions of rivalry if there’s no serious or factual basis for it. But I’m also aware that there are always genuine rivals vying for the game’s top spot—it keeps it exciting. Rivalries are great for the game, and for people watching at home or at a tournament. It also keeps us very competitive and focused. If somebody breaks away from the field, it’s up to the chasing pack to up their game.
What’s it like to drain a massive putt on 18 and win a major championship?
It’s a truly awesome feeling. The level of concentration and pressure, especially at the majors, is so intense that there’s also an enormous sense of relief to get the job done. But I’m happy to go through the drama of it again and again to put another few trophies in the cabinet.
You apologized when you threw a club last year. Why? I think that makes you more relatable.
It wouldn’t be my intention to lose my grip on the club in the near future—there’s a difference, you know. [McIlroy apologized after throwing a club into the lake at Trump Doral and told kids not to do the same.]
What advice do you have for duffers?
Have a great time on the course—have fun with golf. But play at a good pace and don’t hold others up. And replace your divots. And repair pitch marks. And don’t be creative with your scorecard.
How excited are you for the Olympics, and how important is that event compared to winning majors?
I’m starting to get really excited. Getting the chance to compete for a gold is the stuff of dreams. I’m also looking forward to the camaraderie of a team event, as it’s not that common on the golf circuit. Winning majors is, essentially, what golf’s all about—and what our careers are judged on. These are completely separate competitions, yet very important.
Golfers change coaches all the time. Michael Bannon is your guy. What makes him the best?
I don’t remember a time when Michael wasn’t coaching me—we’ve kind of evolved together. We’ve built my swing and my game for around 20 years as a team, and he knows every plane and angle of mine better than I do. What makes him the best? He’s incredibly patient.
Do you ever sit back and think it’s ridiculous, what you’ve managed to do in golf, and at such a young age?
No, I genuinely don’t dwell on my achievements—except video-game victories.
Tiger Woods. Be honest: Are you tired of talking about him?
No, not at all. Tiger made golf what it is today. Fans still come to see him in droves because he’s a legend and one of the fiercest competitors in sport.
How can you combat the inevitable forehead tan line and sock tan line? Or is it futile?
Best to just embrace it. It’s fetching, on some.