He knows what it would mean to his family and friends. He also knows that it would raise a roar from from the home fans on the County Antrim coast that would probably carry all the way over to the other side of the Irish Sea. For Rory McIlroy, though, it is mainly about trying to win the 148th Open Championship in his native Northern Ireland at Royal Portrush next month for one person – himself.
“Golf is a selfish sport, and you want to win for yourself,” said the 2014 champion as his countdown to the season’s final major – a week he has been looking forward to from the moment it was first announced that the R&A event was returning to this year’s venue for the first time since 1951 – began in earnest. “At this point in my career, I want to win for me. It’s not about trying to do something in front of friends and family.”
It took McIlroy nine attempts as a pro to land the Irish Open, finally doing the trick at The K Club in 2016 after three successive missed cuts. “As much as you want to win for other people, the number one thing is you want to win for yourself,” he added. “And it took me a few years playing Irish Opens and stuff to realise that.”
An initial allocation of 40,000 tickets per day for the Claret Jug event on 18-21 July sold out in record time. An additional 3,750 on each of the championship days have also since been snapped up. It will be McIlroy-mania as the 30-year-old bids to claim his fifth major victory only 60 miles from where he cut his golfing teeth at Holywood outside Belfast.
“Yeah, 100 per cent,” he admitted in reply to being asked if winning this event would surpass everything else he has achieved thus far in his career. “I didn’t know if I’d ever have an opportunity to play in a major championship at home. It has been a tournament that I’ve earmarked for a while. I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited about it. I’m not going to hide that fact.
“It’s going to be a massive week for golf, for the country, and for me personally. It’s just about harnessing that support and harnessing that environment the right way and trying to use it to your advantage. I have to go out there with a good mindset and obviously not let the occasion get the better of me and hopefully produce some good golf and give myself a chance.”
Early in his professional career, McIlroy said he didn’t believe his game was suited to winning an Open Championship. He proved himself wrong when landing that victory at Royal Liverpool just under five years ago and has recorded three top-five finishes in his appearances since then in the event. He is now preparing to go into battle on a course where he holds the course record of 61, which he shot at the age of 16.
“My record in The Open Championship the last few years has been good,” he noted. “(Now) I’m going to a golf course that I played well on before and I know better than most of the guys that are playing that week.
“But, just because where it is, there’s no reason why I can’t go into it and treat it like any other Open Championship. I’ll go through the same preparation, I’ll play practice rounds. It’s the same stuff. I’ve done it hundreds of times before. I’ve played a lot in them. I’ve done well in a lot of them. And there’s no reason why I can’t do well with this one either.”
He said he’d found “positives” from last week’s US Open despite seeing his title hopes killed off by an early double-bogey in the final round at Pebble Beach. “I thought it was a good display,” he reflected. Referring to having missed the cut the previous three years, he added: “To be in the final few groups and feel that on Sunday is a welcome change. I played some good golf. I felt like I played well enough in stretches to contend. It’s another solid performance going into the next few weeks.”
• McIlroy, who will be back in action in the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club in three weeks’ time, was speaking as he endorsed the launch of GOLFPASS, a digital golf membership programme that was rolled out by NBC Sports in the US earlier this year, in the UK and Ireland.
Aimed at having the same impact in the modern media world as the Golf Channel did when it was launched by Arnold Palmer 25 years ago, the programme offers exclusive digital content. “I feel like this is my way of trying to, I guess, grow the game in some way, but, at the same time, provide better access and have the game be more fun for people and more approachable,” said McIlroy.