"I'm Playing the Best Golf of My Career Right Now" - Rory McIlroy

March 10, 2020


World No. 1 Rory McIlroy sits down with Trottie to discuss his switch to the TP5 golf ball, the importance of spin for better players, using analytics to improve and more.



Trottie: Podcasters once again, thanks for tuning in. Chris Trott here from the tour team coming to you from the penthouse suite, also known as the top deck of the tour truck on location at the 2020 team TaylorMade photo shoot. My guest for this episode is super fresh, trust me when I say that, off a victory at the World Golf Championships in Shanghai where he became the first European to win three World Golf Championship titles. The victory was his fourth of the year and his first of the new season. He is your 2019 FedEx Cup champ and it's fair to say you're in a good place right now Rory McIlroy, and the golf game is looking sharp.

Rory: It is. Thanks Trottie. Thanks for having me on.

Trottie: Congrats on the win. Shanghai to Florida. Physically you got to be a wreck.

Rory: Physically I'm feeling it. It's the end of the day. It's been a long day. We've been out in the heat, but I'm okay. You know, this is my last commitment of the day and we've saved the best for last.

Trottie: A hundred percent mate. I've been revved up for this one all day. I want to know, you win this thing in China and it's a cool win, in a playoff. You get on an airplane, you get over here, when do you actually get to celebrate this success?

Rory: I don't know. Honestly, I've had a great year. I've done a lot of cool things and I haven't really had a chance to celebrate any of them because after the Players you're sort of getting ready for Augusta and getting ready for major season. After the Canadian Open it was straight into the U.S. Open. After the tour championship, I went straight to Switzerland and played over there and then obviously won last week in China and I am here and I've still got an event in Dubai.

I think I'm going to take two months off. I'm going to take December and January off mostly. And I think that's when I can reflect and celebrate a little bit and have a bit of downtime and really enjoy what I've done this year because it has been one of the best years of my career and you have to celebrate these things. Not every year you're going to win four times and do all the things that I've done.

So, you have to take the time to enjoy it. I mean, what's the point in doing it if you can't enjoy it, you know? So, I'll have plenty of time over the holidays to enjoy and celebrate and feel good about myself before turning my attention to 2020.

Trottie: And what does the celebration entail these days? I appreciate when we're all young we all know what the answer is, but you're still young, but now in the position you're in your life, what does a celebration for you look like?

Rory: Yeah, I think a celebration for me looks like staying home, having a few glasses of wine, being surrounded by friends and family that you really appreciate that have sort of been with you on the journey the whole way. And that's really it. I used to go out with my mates, go to the bars, go to the clubs, get hammered, take shots, all that sort of stuff. But-

Trottie: Have a curry on the way home.

Rory: Have a curry on the way home, throw up and go and do it again the next day.

Trottie: Exactly.

Rory: But yeah, that's sort of like, I even think about that now it exhausts me. So I'm just sort of, just sort of try to keep it low key and know that we've sort of, yeah, we've moved into our new house down here in Florida and it's really nice. I want to start spending more time here and enjoying that and that's the stuff I sort of, I like to do nowadays, is be a little more civilized.

Trottie: You alluded to it a little bit there. Do you think that, I feel from the outside looking in, but it's not for me to say. I feel like you're playing the best golf you've played since you've been with TaylorMade. Do you think you're playing the best golf of your career right now?

Rory: I do. I do think I'm playing the best golf of my career right now. I think it consistently, week in, week out. I don't think I've ever had a better stroke average on the PGA tour. I won the lowest stroke average this year. Obviously my strokes gained numbers were better than they ever have been. Yeah, whatever it is, I've been consistently able to turn up and shoot good scores, and get myself into contention. I thought last year was a good year. I think I got myself into seven final groups on Sunday and I think I've passed that easily this year, got the four wins, big wins, tournaments that I haven't won before. That's cool.

And, people will say he hasn't won a major in a few years and all that sort of stuff. But I think with these wins, I keep beating some of the best fields in golf. So, inevitably if I keep doing that, my turn will come in these majors and I'll hopefully start to win those again.

Trottie: So when you look at the numbers and the stats, and I've got some of them here that we can talk about. But, where do you look to improve, cause obviously it's a game you're always trying to improve. You're always trying to, we touched on it earlier when we talked about you having the mirror on the putting green and eye line there, there's always a point where you're trying to check calibration. Like, "Am I good?" So where do you look to improve?

Rory: So I think one of the best things about being with TaylorMade is I can really utilize James Cornish, who's our stats guy, in-house stats guy, and we as a team, Harry and myself rely on James to tell us, "Okay, where can I pick up that extra half a shot a day." So for me, one of the biggest areas that it's very easy to pick up a shot or a quarter of a shot even in strokes gained is from 200 to 225 or 225 to 250 and that's just maybe working a little bit more on my longer irons.

Driving is always going to be the foundation of my game. I got to keep that as strong as I possibly can and try to gain over a stroke around on the field. And then the other stuff, some of my iron play, my wedges I can improve on. I've drastically improved my putting this year. I mean, it's the best it's ever been. And if I can just keep chipping away at these things that maybe haven't been strengths before but I can keep gradually getting them better. But maintaining the strengths of my game and the foundation of my game. I said at the end of sort of last season or the 2019 season, Tiger is the only guy that's averaged three strokes gained in a PGA tour season and I would love to get to that number eventually, and that's constantly trying to improve all aspects of my game to get to that point.

Trottie: Shows you the importance as a kid of listening to your statistics teacher. That you can actually have an impact on an athlete's game if you do that.

Rory: Well you can. I think nowadays, so many sports, and especially golf, are statistics driven and there's a lot of analysis involved and you were trying to... I think the game of golf nowadays, there's so much parity in it that it's the little differences that are going to separate you from the rest of the competition. And everyone else is doing the same thing. They're all trying to look for that 1% or fraction of a shot that's going to make the difference. And that's what you need to do because all the guys out on tour are so good and it's just about finding those little things that can help you one shot a tournament. That's even a big improvement.

Trottie: We all need an understanding of this and especially the people on this truck. And one of the things that I look down these stats, like I say, in strokes gained off the tee, 2018 sixth, 2019 first. You then come to this photo shoot, you hit SIM, you try the fairway wood, there's SIM in that. Change is coming because the competition will be changing. Yep. Where does that sit with you when you've got such great numbers?

Rory: Yeah.

Trottie: That was the elephant in the room we were going to have to talk about.

Rory: So I think for me, and I think with working with you and Keith and Adrian and all the guys, knowing what my numbers are when I'm driving at my best, and that might necessarily mean I might want an extra two or 300 RPMs of spin to hold the ball on line. And that might mean that I hit an extra fairway a day, which is four extra fairways, a tournament, which is four more birdie opportunities during that run, or during that tournament.

So for me, I think what we learned from 2018 when I was, I mean sixth isn't bad in strokes getting off the tee and sixth best driver and we're sort of looking not at that as a disappointing year, but I know when, like this year, I was first in strokes gained off the tee. I got my spin up to around 24-2500, because it's not taking anything away from distance, but it's holding the ball on line better so that if I do hit one a little off line, it's still, I use this term that Tiger uses a lot, you can still cheer for it. You can still tell it to try to hold the fairway or, so just a little bit more spin in the driver is a big thing for me. It usually correlates in me leading the driving stats.

So whenever we really try to get dialed in with the new SIM driver, it's spin rate for me is a big thing. Spin loft is a big thing, and as long as I can keep those two numbers where I need them to be, then the driver should be great.

Trottie: So on the subject of spin, and I've jumped forward here because I was going to ask you about this. Tiger plays with shape. Tiger talks about knocking spin off. Do you think that's a generational thing? Because now you're talking about putting a bit of spin on. It shows you how important spin is, one.

Rory: Yeah.

Trottie: But do you think, and try and think about the question a little bit, a different way. He tries to knock spin off and he loves a lot of spin on his iron play, you're a low spin guy. So where's that correlate in terms of control?

Rory: Yeah, but I think I grew up in an era where the first golf balls I used were Balatas and they were soft golf balls and they spun a lot and you had to learn how to take spin off them. And I think as the years have went on and obviously golf ball construction has changed and it's more about high launch, low spin, for me anyway, especially with someone with a lot of speed that can almost go too much that way. So like in the middle of last year, I changed back to the TP5 ball just because I wanted more spin. And I think if you're a talented player and you have the skill, I think it's better to play with more spin and be able to take spin off.

There's no doubt that Tiger is the best iron player in the game. And I think one of the reasons for that is that he can play with a lot of spin when he needs it, but then he can also take spin off and he can flight it down. And he's got so much versatility with his iron play and that is something you need, especially when you're playing on tour and you've got to get to back right pins or front left pins and being able to shape it and spin it and do all these different things. Spin is really important for the better player. And I realized that over the last couple of years and that's why I've went to the TP5 and wanted more spin on my driver. And because having more spin means you have more control and ultimately if you have more control, you're going to play better golf.

Trottie: Hmm. When you in the past, again on the ball, you've talked about the wind and how the ball is so stable, the TP5 versus balls you've played in previous years is so stable in the wind. It goes through the wind. Just explain a little bit to the amateur cause it's crucial. We're talking Rory McIlroy's name, Tiger's name, and we're talking spin. It's crucial. It's important. Two of the best golfers on the planet. So with the wind, what do you mean by that?

Rory: Yeah, so it's more, so wind I would say, what I've noticed about the TP5, and the TP5x, I've used them both for probably the same, 18 months in probably the last 18 months with the TP5, it's the crosswinds, right? When you strike a ball well, does it get through that wind and is it stable and it's not getting hit as much by the wind. Playing the TP5 or changing to the TP5 into the wind, obviously it's got more spin on it so you have to play for that. I'm going to have to take an extra club and flight one down or whatever. But there's costs and benefits to everything and that's the trade off with playing a spinny ball.

Maybe I have to take an extra club than someone that plays a TP5X. But I'm comfortable doing that because I know that this ball from my all-around game benefits me more. But I've never, I think with the five-piece construction and everything that goes into the TP5 and TP5x, it is such a stable golf ball, and balls that I've hit previously that I feel like I've struck well, I don't get moved in a crosswind where it's almost like I had to get used to the TP5 of not playing for as much wind in a crosswind, which is a nice thing to do. If you've got a hard left to right wind and there's water on the left, feeling like you don't actually have to aim it in the water or aim it close to a hazard line to hold this ball on line is a nice thing.

Trottie: You're a smaller guy and you've got the best players on the planet watching you hit this new SIM driver and they all stop when you're going to hit it. Everyone turns at some point from Tiger, to DJ, to Day, to Wolffie coming through and Collin and Rahm, they all turn and watch what Rory is doing. How does that feel to hold the attention of three or four of the best of the players on the planet with yourself?

Rory: Yeah.

Trottie: And how do you smoke it so far?

Rory: I mean, it's a huge compliment. I mean, I don't know. I obviously... Whatever way I've learned how to move my body and move the golf club, I've been able to move it in a very efficient way that creates quite a lot of speed. And I can keep up with DJ that's six- four and 215 pounds.

Trottie: He's got his eye on you. He's watching what's going on all the time. Like you're the guy.

Rory: Yeah, I use the ground well. I leverage, I do everything that a biomechanic would tell you to do to hit the ball a long way. But it's just come naturally to me. It's not something I've ever really tried to work on. When I was a kid, I try and hit it as hard as I can. But it's instinct. For me it was second nature. This is what I need to do to create a lot of speed and a lot of par. And then, over the last few years I've obviously hit the gym, got a little bit stronger at being able to stabilize that and control that speed a bit better. And I think that all goes into making me one of the best drivers with a golf ball.

Trottie: Wolffie talks about the ground. How can we as casual golfers, listeners, how can we try and use the ground a little differently?

Rory: So I guess it's like, if, I'm trying to sort of relate it to something where like, say you go into the gym and you want to do a box jump onto a box, right? It's that initial split second of, you're pressuring into the ground and then you're jumping. Or if someone asks you to jump as high as you can, what are you going to do first? You're going to squat and then you're going to go up, you're going to try to get some tension in there and really use the ground to explode off. So it's the same. It's the same thing in golf. I load into my right side on the way back and then from there it is a plant into my left and then it's an explosion up through my left leg. And then you turn around your left leg and post up and, but again, it's none of these things I'm really thinking about. It's just, it's what happens. But it's really, it's a lateral shift plus a mini-jump is the only, this is how I can describe it.

Trottie: I watch you make those movements and I think you must be a great mover on the dance floor at some point in the night. You got any carpet rugs on there? Any movements out there? Carpet creepers or whatever they say?

Rory: I'd need to be well, well lubricated. I am too self-conscious. I probably think I'm a good dancer at a certain point in the night.

Trottie: We all do.

Rory: But no.

Trottie: We'll move around like Mick Jagger. So raw wedges, you've always played them. Why?

Rory: I don't know. I think I, I remember when I first got my first rusty wedge back in-

Trottie: It was cool, wasn't it?

Rory: Yeah. Yeah. And-

Trottie: Did you stick it in a bucket of water straight away.?

Rory: Yeah, exactly. And you saw the pros using them. And this was the thing back in the sort of late 90s, early 2000s I think. And I remember I got my first one and I just loved it. I didn't really know the reason behind why they were making raw wedges. They just look cool. Yeah. So I got my first one and then ever since then I've sort of, I've liked them and they look cool and, it is something about them like a dull wedge or a raw wedge. It just looks like it's going to spin more, I don't know. It's just something that just, it looks like you're going to be able to spin it. So yeah.

Trottie: What can amateurs get from them, do you think? Sometimes the amateurs don't like the clubs to rust like that. And I'm with you. I was always impacted by a generational thing and if the guy had a rusty wedge, man, I wanted rusty wedges. Copper wedges. Before that I wanted copper wedges. But little did I know that there's no plating between the grooves and it's all a feel thing. But for these "ams," is there anything else that they should be aware of in a raw wedge that you think guys, there's a benefit here?

Rory: Yeah, I mean, there is a benefit. Obviously with a raw wedge or raw face, you're going to have more friction, which obviously means more spin. If you're playing in wet conditions and the ball's a little wet, you're going to get more spin than you would from just a normal chrome face, I think. I mean there's been tests on where the RPM's go down by thousands.

Trottie: Yeah.

Rory: So if you can get more spin, especially like, even when it's not like a wet day, but you're playing early in the morning and there's dew on the ground and stuff like that. It makes a huge difference. So just to have that extra couple hundred or thousand RPM’s of spin makes a big difference.

Trottie: I completely agree. I mean it's something now that if we can give golfers that just from buying a club rather than having to change anything. I mean, why wouldn't you? It's another great thing that we see here, and one of the great things I saw when I watched some of the golf last week and I saw you promoted it on social media, was the kids in China and what's happened there and how that's grown there at Xi'an and your kids clubs in those Chinese kids. I mean that's pretty amazing, right? How does that feel for you?

Rory: Cool. I mean I feel so fortunate that we've been able to work together to create this, this line of Rory clubs and kids clubs that are as far reaching as China. Kids in China are using them and obviously kids all over the world are hopefully benefiting from those clubs.

Trottie: I tell you know, someone who's not benefiting is my, I've got twins, a boy and a girl, and the Rory girl's clubs are on back order till January, in the pink. So she's having a head off. My little guy's got his blue paint fill, he's over the moon. So do you know anyone that I can speak to, can pull some strings around here and get me a set of the girls ones before Christmas? Because, at the moment, I'm seeing that we're out. We're toast.

Rory: Trottie, if I don't know... If you don't know anyone that I certainly don't.

Trottie: But the cool thing as a parent, and I'm speaking from experience because I remember back to being a kid and I had a Bernhard Langer bag and basically then, it was always when I started getting closer to tour place. Bernard Langer had a place. I always wanted to meet the guy. I did. Great guy. But you can hold that place for generations. That's got to feel nice.

Rory: It's nuts thinking about it that way, because I remember how my first golf hero was Nick Faldo and I used to call myself Rory Nick Faldo McIlroy. And to think that there's kids out there that think the same about me as I did about Faldo and then obviously going on to other players, it's a cool feeling, but it's also a big responsibility, right? You have to take that seriously and you have to try to be a good role model and conduct yourself the right way. There's a lot of people that look up to what I do. And I'm trying my best to do everything the right way.

Trottie: I think you're doing a good job and I mean that, and one of the things that I'm very proud of you for, and to be honest, the rest of this podcast doesn't matter until now, is the Ryder cup. You're the man for us. We love it. You keep it going. How do we secure that over in the States coming up?

Rory: It's a tough one. Obviously the last three Ryder cups have went with the home advantage. I always feel that Europe has such a good chemistry and rapport and I'm excited to, I still need to make the team first, but I'm excited to play under Padraig in Whistling Straights next year. I think there's so many things that go into the Ryder cup, but I think first and foremost, if you can get a group of 12 guys together that realize they're all playing for the same thing and they're not, you check your ego at the door and we're in there and you're 1 of 12 and no one's more important than anyone else. And you go out there and you do your job, you get your point and you play for that team as if they are your brothers, your family, and for that week they are.

They really are. And I've really come to embrace the Ryder Cup and it means an awful lot to me. And I'm very proud to be on the European team and be one of the leaders of the European team. And I think we've got a good chance in Whistling Straits. It's not your typical American golf course. The weather in Wisconsin at the end of September could be a bit dodgy, which could probably suit us more than it suits the Americans. So I'm excited for it. I think outside of the majors or even it sits alongside the majors as the biggest event in golf and it's been a privilege to be a part of it for the last five of them. Hopefully I make my sixth team coming up here and hopefully we can get our, I've won four out of five and hopefully this time we can make a five out of six.

Trottie: We've got Wolffie and Morikawa on here tomorrow separately. Is there anything I can do to help here to just put the bad vibes on them? Anything I need to stress them out about?

Rory: No, I think you're okay at the minute.

Trottie: You call me in when you need me.

Rory: Yeah.

Trottie: So how about advice? All you guys are amazing at helping each other. How about on a serious note, advice for Collin and Matt as they're starting their pro career? They've got big futures in front of them. We don't know if they're Ryder Cup or whatever, but what would be the advice at the start the journey?

Rory: I mean, they've started their journey faster and better than even I started mine. It only took them a few starts to get their first wins. Going down the stretch in Detroit where Matt won and Collin’s pushing him all the way. And I mean what they've been able to do coming straight out of college is phenomenal. So I think they're a great addition to the TaylorMade team. And I mean advice wise, I mean, they both are very different players. Collin is technically very sound and very doesn't seem to do-

Trottie: Seems a cool cat.

Rory: Cool cat, doesn't seem to do a lot wrong. Very solid, hits a lot of fairways.

Trottie: Be a good foursome’s partner.

Rory: Be a great foursome's partner. So for him, I mean it's just, for both of them don't change anything. I mean, you've got on one side of the road, you've got Collin who sort of is technically very good and orthodox and all this sort of stuff. And then you've got on the other end of the spectrum, you've got Matt who does it his own way. He's got this sort of funky action but coming into the ball is technically so good. And I think what I've seen over the years is people get on tour and then they think they have to try to do something else to get to the next level or whatever that is. But these boys have already proved that they're at that next level. They don't need to do anything different. They just need to gain experience, play in these tournaments, play the golf courses that they've never played before, and just keep doing that.

They've already won on tour. I mean, they've already got off to this great start. And for me it's all about experience and getting into different positions and getting in contention in different places and going up against some of the best players in the world. And realizing, so again, for me, as a 19-20 year old playing with Ernie Els, playing with Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, playing with all these guys that I looked up to for such a long time and realizing, I might not be quite as good as them but I'm not that far away, and I think that's what these guys are realizing. And that inspires you. That's like, okay, if I just work a little bit harder and I gain some experience, in a year or two's time, I'll be right up there with the best players in the world.

Trottie: Rory, I really like where you're at. You've given off a persona that you got this, you're in a good spot. You're letting your golf do the talking. The only thing that's left for me to ask you now is these speed injected questions and hopefully you can do that final bit of talking. Get my daughter some clubs, did I tell you we need to sort that out? Other than that, we can move on here.

Alrighty. So Torrey Pines or Bethpage?

Rory: Torrey Pines.

Trottie: Would you rather lead the tour in strokes gained off the tee or strokes gained putting?

Rory: Strokes gained putting, just for one season, just to see how it feels.

Trottie: The one course you could play every day for the rest of your life?

Rory: Augusta National.

Trottie: LeBron or Kawhi?

Rory: LeBron.

Trottie: Messi or Ronaldo?

Rory: Oh, Ronaldo.

Trottie: I'm sticking one in there. Steve Gerrard or Eric Cantona? Only cause I want to know.

Rory: Gerrard.

Trottie: Good man. I wasn't sure you'd go there.

Rory: Yeah, I mean just longevity and yeah.

Trottie: Been awhile. But window or aisle?

Rory: Aisle.

Trottie: Number of career hole-in-ones.

Rory: Professional?

Trottie: No. Anyway you like. Even practicing with your mates. Mini putt doesn't count.

Rory: Okay. Ten I think. Ten hole-in-ones.

Trottie: What would you shoot lefty?

Rory: Oh, what's 18 times six? Probably average six a hole. Hopefully break a 110.

Trottie: Putting would be tricky, right? That's why I always, I mean, you can feel... Hitting big slices, I recommend-

Rory: No big hooks. I can only have big hooks lefty. Yeah, same as righty.

Trottie: Favorite TV or Netflix show right now?

Rory: Mindhunter.

Trottie: Mallet or blade?

Rory: Mallet.

Trottie: Beach or the mountains?

Rory: Mountains.

Trottie: And the one shot in your career you wish you could have a Mulligan on?

Rory: There's two and they're both at Augusta. Honestly, I had a putt for an Eagle on the second hole in the final round on Sunday in 2018 if I could, if I had of held that, I think I would have had a lot of momentum, I would've felt good about myself. I might've went on to at least challenge a bit more for the Masters that year.

Trottie: I see, just tell me the other one.

Rory: The other one would be the 10th hole in 2011, final round Augusta. But I was already losing it at that point. So I don't know if it would have made a difference.

Trottie: If you know the outcome would've been-

Rory: So yeah, so it was, I think that one on the second hole and 18 because I was feeling pretty good. I had a great second shot and that had of went in, it could have been at a big momentum builder.

Trottie: Golf's a fine line. And we're loving helping you get the right side of these fine lines and we know we're going to get you in this place for Augusta where you're ready and that's our job done aside and we'll do all we can, but we love having you at these photo shoots. We love hearing you playing the best golf for your life. We love the way you're so raw and you give us such good feedback and we can't ask for a better ambassador at team TaylorMade. So thanks for everything you're doing for the game regardless of my daughter's pink paint fill, thanks for everything you're doing for the game.

Rory: Thanks Trottie and thanks TaylorMade for all the support. It's been a wonderful experience working with you guys from, I guess the end of 2016, when I first started using the M2 driver and then obviously progressing through and signing with you guys and going through everything. It's been a wonderful first few years and long may it continue.

Trottie: I feel like we're through the surface and I feel like now everything from here is just going to be gravy. That's how these relationships go. People ask us all the time, but honestly, I mean the fact that we can sit here and talk so freely, I just know that we're on a good path.

Rory: Me too.

Trottie: So top man. Good podcast as always. @RoryMcIlroy on Instagram. He's active on there. You can see what he's doing, what he's out and about. I'm @TrottieGolf. You can catch me there if need be. Rory doesn't do much work. He's one of the low maintenance guys, but I'll put anything of interest that I think. This podcast can be found, SoundCloud, Spotify, iTunes. The TaylorMade handle is @TaylorMadeGolf. Guys, give us five stars. If you like it, ask some questions, please return. You know where to find these podcasts and we'll be back some more. Rory, thanks a lot.

Rory: Cheers Trottie.

Trottie: Cheers. Bye.