Rory McIlroy confronted Paul McGinley after Ryder Cup wind-up mission

Rory McIlroy celebrates at the Ryder Cup in Italy
-Credit: (Image: AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Paul McGinley found a way to light a fire under Rory McIlroy at two Ryder Cups. He believes it will take a new process to get the four-time major champion over the line again after a whole decade of waiting.

Five days out from the US Open at Pinehurst and McIlroy's latest attempt to win his fifth major will be one of the week's biggest stories.

McGinley, who has just been appointed as Europe's new Ryder Cup czar, was the team captain a decade ago in Gleneagles when he brought Alex Ferguson in to rally the troops.

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On top of the world that summer after winning two more majors to bring his total to four, McIlroy - a massive Manchester United fan - was re-energised by Fergie's words.

Then came the utter misery of Whistling Straits in 2022 when, as Europe's main man, he failed to perform and the wheels came off the team's challenge.

And then there was Marco Simone last year, when McIlroy produced his best ever score for the European team.

Working behind the scenes at team captain Luke Donald's request, McGinley turned bad cop, sticking to a theme in interviews that McIlroy hadn't really excelled in Ryder Cups.

Donald and McGinley had found a way to tap into his competitive spirit.

"I was doing that on purpose," said McGinley. "Then Luke invited me and Monty (Colin Montgomerie) in to speak to the team one night and straight away, Rory comes up and says, 'So tell me about my Ryder Cup record? I've a f****g average Ryder Cup record?'

"And I said, 'yeah, you have'. I told him straight: 'Look at Luke's record. Look at Sergio's record. Far superior to yours'.

"For the last two years I worked very closely with Luke behind the scenes. One of the things was igniting Rory. I told Luke I'd be the bad guy in the media and dismiss his Ryder Cup record."

They understood that McIlroy loves proving people wrong. Now it's about translating that spark from a team environment to the major stage again.

McGinley argues that McIlroy needs a process. He knows Jim Gavin and Jim McGuinness and points to their process-driven approach that delivered respective All-Ireland success to Dublin and Donegal.

He points to that Champions League final success is now in Real Madrid's DNA and how manager Carlo Ancelotti's revealed before their latest triumph last weekend that his process is his ability to react to events on the pitch, not creating a grand masterplan.

Whatever your belief system, McGinley adds, there is something in the fact that Scottie Scheffler - as Bernhard Langer did before him - putting his total faith in God's plan when stepping onto the course.

"Talk about releasing pressure," smiled the Sky Sports and NBC commentator. "He's standing on the first tee thinking, 'whatever pathway is made for me is made for me and won't pass me by because God is in control'. People easily dismiss that.

"But I'm not saying Rory needs to become a born again Christian!".

John Daly's process was radically different. "He couldn't care less, he played golf with a fag in his mouth and10 diet cokes," said McGinley.

"He never was a deep thinker, never knew the history of the game. He just played for the next shot."

Paul McGinley
Paul McGinley

Jack Nicklaus' approach was to love the competitive battle and if he won, he won. If his opponent was better - like Tom Watson at The Open in '77 - he would put his arm around him and congratulate him.

"Rory needs to find a way of releasing that pressure valve. Sometimes it's a psychological game you can play, Christianity, there are so many ways of doing it," said McGinley. "Disconnect from what you're trying to achieve. Stay in the moment, one shot at a time.

"Overall, he’s a better golfer now than 10 years ago. Scheffler looks to be the only one who may match Rory's record, but Rory is 15 years now in this top conversation.

"He knows he has unfinished business and it's driven him to still be a relevant top player. Maybe that's why he's been so brilliant over the years.

"But there’s a mental hurdle he has to jump. That’s what’s holding him back. Rory doesn’t have that glue in majors at the moment. The doubt that creeps in, that's the biggest hurdle. The rest of it's all there.

"When he gets into the Wells Fargo, it's different. That doubt doesn't scream the way it screams in majors.

"I don't want to give the impression that Rory is mentally weak. He's far from it. You look at what he's won since his last major and it's phenomenal, nobody comes close. He is - by far, in my opinion - the best player in the modern era.

"It's like a goalscorer who hasn't scored for a number of matches, then it goes in off his arse or off his leg or when he's not looking and the floodgates open again.

"Rory lives in the real world. When people say, 'you haven't won a major for 10 years', he goes, 'yeah, nobody's more aware of it than me'.

"But if he gets a win under his belt, he goes, 'I won a US Open the other week and I'm ready to go again'.

"Should he get one over the line, I expect to see two or three come quickly because he's the best player of his era."

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