Rory McIlroy believes the next three months will hold the key to his next ten years in golf – potentially turning “a great career into one of the greatest” in the history of the game.
The former World No 1 has had a difficult year on the course with injury, technical issues and a lack of form as he makes a return to the British Masters at Close House near Newcastle – on the tenth anniversary of his professional debut in the same event.
The former World No 1 is not dissatisfied with his lot from that first decade in the professional ranks – far from it – but he’s convinced that the best is yet to come.
“That has gone really quickly,” he pondered on returning to the event where, when he made his debut in 2007 at the Belfry, this week’s host Lee Westwood was the winner. “If someone had told me then you’re going to do what I’ve done in the first ten years, I would have been very happy…actually ecstatic, over the moon.
“But because of the experiences I’ve had in those ten years, the golfer that I’ve become, I feel in the next ten years I can be even better.
“So that’s why I think these next three months are going to be very important. They could give me the foundation to turn a great career into one of the greatest careers. That’s why I’m looking forward to this next spell.”
This next spell involves playing this event – on an invitation at short notice but to the delight of host Westwood and the North East England golfing public – the Dunhill Links next week with his Dad Gerry and then possibly not picking up a club until the end of November to finally rid himself of the troublesome rib problem that has plagued him since his opening event of the year in South Africa.
He won’t be entirely idle in that time, however. After a ten day break, he’s going for a “full health MOT type of thing” of tests to determine how he can look after himself better.
“I feel I just haven’t had quite the energy levels and I just be a bit more disciplined,” he said, reeling off a list of “weaknesses” including red wine, dark chocolate, and burgers. “It’s delving a bit deeper to see where I can make `ins’. I would be the first to say my diet hasn’t been the best over this past year and a half.
“It’s not as if I’m an old man at 28, but I want to do everything I can to leave no stone unturned and be as prepared as I possibly can be going into any event.”
After the tests he’ll do mostly rehab work for four weeks before probably returning to practice in mid or late November, by which time the rib problem should have finally gone.
“Since I came back for the U.S. Open, I haven’t given myself that little more prolonged length of time to let it fully heal and let it feel 100 per cent,” he said.
“Just a four- to six-week break without really doing anything and really concentrating on rehab exercises and doing all that stuff, I’ll be fine.
“I actually don’t feel that far away. I feel better now than I did starting the FedExCup Playoffs, so that’s a good thing, and that hopefully bodes well for these next few weeks in terms of rehab.”
Once healed, he plans as busy a year in 2018 than he’s scheduled for his entire career.
“I think the Ryder Cup might be my 26th event of next year, but I’m looking to play more than I’ve done since my rookie year,” he said. “I might cut it down the year after that by next year, I’m motivated.
“I feel like I’ve missed out this year. I’ve got a wife who loves to travel, we don’t have kids yet, it’s perfect. I want to play a lot and take advantage of that while I can.”
This week and next, however, there are no expectations, even though he faces a blank in the win column for 2017.
“I feel like I’ve highlighted areas I’ve needed to work on anyway,” he continued. “If I play well these next two weeks, that’s just a bonus, basically.
“Hopefully I can show something these next two weeks and play okay, then go into my off-season knowing what I need to work on and being excited about getting into the process, coming out next year and playing better than I have this year.”