And, three months on, McIlroy has admitted that he surprised even himself to a certain extent as he was overcome with emotion on the final day of this year’s Ryder Cup as Europe were heading for a record 19-9 defeat at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.
Breaking down in tears after he’d defeated Olympic champion Xander Schauffele at the top of the singles order, McIlroy spoke about his “love” for the European team and felt bitterly disappointed to deliver just one point from four games in his sixth appearance in the event.
“I should have done more for them this week,” said the Northern Irishman in an interview with Sky Sports, during which he had to stop a couple of times to try and compose himself.
That week will continue to hurt until McIlroy gets a chance to take on the Americans again at Marco Simone Golf Club in Rome in 2023, but, at the same time, he feels content that the whole world knows exactly what it means to him to fly the European flag.
“That’s what the Ryder Cup does for you at times,” McIlroy told Scotland on Sunday. “It’s funny. It’s like you don’t play for anything but your team-mates and each other and our countries and continents.
“It doesn’t matter whether you are playing for $15 million or $20 million, whatever it is, it is the most authentic event in golf. It brings things out in you that you maybe didn’t even know were in there. So, yeah, and I said it at the time, it is the best event in golf, bar none.”
Yes, this is the same man who once described the Ryder Cup as an “exhibition” event, but that was before he’d played in it and, on his debut under Colin Montgomerie’s captaincy at Celtic Manor in 2010, soon regretted that remark.
“It brings out your emotions as there is so much authenticity to it and we’ve got to wait two years to get a crack at it again,” he continued, speaking at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.
“For me, it (the Whistling Straits match) was a bit of an eye-opening experience, more in terms of how I played and how I approached it and I felt there were a few things that I didn’t do the right way. I tried to right those wrongs in the week after it and came out the other side better for it.”
That was in reference to him winning the PGA Tour’s CJ Cup in Las Vegas when he returned to individual action before also getting himself in the mix in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai on the European Tour.
In his final outing of the calendar year, the 32-year-old shared the lead after an opening 66 in the Bahamas before ending up 18th in the 20-man field for the Hero World Challenge.
“Probably one event too many in the end,” he declared. “But certainly CJ and Dubai, it’s been good. It’s been a positive end to the year, especially after how I felt at the Ryder Cup. Certainly gave me something to build on for next year.”
He’s committed to play in both the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic in January, but, for the next few weeks, his focus will be with wife Erica and their one-year-old daughter, Poppy.
“I’m excited to get home and forget about golf for a little bit and have some quality time with the family,” said McIlroy, smiling. “Even weeks like this, it’s nice to have the family out, but you don’t really see them that much. You are out on the golf course but, when I get home, I’ll be spending some nice quality time with them.”