Be honest: When was the last time getting mad led to anything good in your life? Anger converts disagreements with your sweetheart into hours of screaming, turns differences of opinion between buddies into ended friendships and transforms disputes at the office into unemployment. Flashes of temper tend to be particularly destructive in golf, where an angry swing is a recipe for missing the ball completely as your friends laugh their asses off. (Which only makes you angrier…)
Unless you’re Rory McIlroy, in which case it’s damned rocket fuel.
I had the pleasure of watching Rory at the Ryder Cup, where he and his fellow Europeans ultimately lost to the U.S. (a rarity), but not before he put on a show.
Rory’s anger is a beautifully focused thing. For most of us, anger is buckshot. McIlroy fires lasers.
For those who haven’t attended a Cup, I can confirm it is what golf should always be: filled with raucous cheering, ludicrous costumes, endless drinking and surprisingly tuneful singing as the fans and the players generally go wild.
Also the fans can be really close to the players, to the point that they can reach out and touch them or, in the case of Rory, say shit to him about his former fiancée.
And ironically, the respectfulness of most of the 65,000 fans packing Minnesota’s Hazeltine National Golf Club actually empowered inebriated hecklers—meaning that when a guy urged McIlroy to perform a sex act that probably isn’t in Rory’s usual repertoire, it came through with total clarity.
This is when an athlete is supposed to tune everything out: forget the fans and just do your job. And whatever you do, don’t waste time going back at them.
This is how Rory reacted to hitting a ridiculous match-winning putt.
This particular reaction was actually a little out of character for him, because there was a playful quality to it. More often it was fist pumping as he went bug-eyed with fury… yet he would be composed by the next shot. Leading to the logical question: How did McIlroy light this flame without it burning him up?
After watching him for many, many holes, I think the answer is simple: Rory’s anger is a beautifully focused thing. For most of us, anger is buckshot: Even when we manage to shoot it in the general direction of a target, damned if it doesn’t hit everything else in the vicinity too.
McIlroy fires lasers. They’re not directed at everyone. Indeed, they’re not even directed at his actual opponent. This was most visible in his singles match against the equally demonstrative Patrick “Captain America” Reed. (Here’s Reed calmly realizing he just scored a miracle hole out.)
Watching McIlroy casually toss Reed the ball to concede a putt in a match he was trailing (and would ultimately lose), it was clear: McIlroy can turn off the temper tap as needed. Walking between holes it’s closed… then he loosens the spigot as he grows ridiculously focused before a shot… and only after he finishes the job does he open it wide and let that anger flow.
Then he shuts it off until the next hole.
Despite the team loss, this could be a turning point for McIlroy. Rory has long been celebrated as having the best swing in golf. By 2012, he’d already won two majors by a ridiculous eight shots each—a margin reserved for video games and Tiger Woods. Recently he’s been seen as being a bit of an underachiever for failing to take over the sport totally.
Watching Rory embrace the rage this Ryder Cup and seeing how it focused his immense talent, it’s possible his entire career is about to take a big, surly step forward. And rest assured: While the Ryder Cup is unique, golf fans will continue to provide their share of irritations. Below, watch Rory put up with a verse of “Sweet Caroline” at an earlier tournament, as the world continues to remind him that he used to be engaged to tennis player Caroline Wozniacki. (To his credit, Rory reportedly responded to a serenade at the Ryder Cup by singing along.)
And when he comes back to U.S. soil for the 2020 Ryder Cup, let’s not make him angry, America.