Sports | July 12, 2021 5:21 am

How Rory McIlroy Feels About Olympic Golf, the Power of Fans and the Brooks-Bryson Feud

We caught up with Northern Ireland’s favorite son a few weeks before the Games begin in Tokyo

Rory McIlroy at the abrdn Scottish Open
Rory McIlroy at the abrdn Scottish Open in July 2021.
Ross Parker/SNS Group via Getty

Thanks to 106 weeks at No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, four major championships and two FedEx Cups under his belt at the age of 32, Rory McIlroy is projected to make $401 million by the time he reaches age 50, according to a recent estimate from New York-based financial advisory firm Duff and Phelps.

While it’s far too early to tell if McIlroy will that hit mark as easily as he hits his tee shots, some of those earnings will likely come through his investment in Irish start-up LetsGetChecked. Introduced to LetsGetChecked back in 2018, McIlroy and his investment team were sold on the virtual care company’s vision to put healthcare into the hands of consumers and allow them to live happier, healthier lives via at-home health tests outfitted with innovative technology.

“I’m delighted to invest in a business that is working tirelessly to make health screening more accessible to people all around the world,” McIlroy tells InsideHook. “Symphony Ventures is an investment partnership I have with my team focusing on the health, well-being and golf sectors. We try to follow a set of principles with every opportunity viewed through a long-term lens from on-course impact to reputation. My team screens each opportunity through our trusted investment relationships and we collectively decided to invest or not.”

In addition to investing in it, personal health is something McIlroy takes very seriously in his own life, particularly when it comes to recovery after pushing his limits on the golf course.

“It is very important to me and I have focused on recovery a lot over the past few years,” he says. “Training hard has obvious benefits as a professional athlete, but I’ve come to realize that sleep is equally important. No matter where I am in the world, I try to eat early, drink plenty of water and get to bed early. This has a huge impact on my rest and recovery.”

If all goes as planned — which is far from guaranteed — McIlroy will be recovering in Japan later this summer, as he’s scheduled to represent Ireland in his Olympic debut.

“I’ve been a professional golfer for 14 years now, so it’s sort of rare to be able to do something for the first time again,” he says. “I’m looking forward to that experience and, hopefully, a podium finish awaits. This will be my first Games, so I cannot compare them to a major just yet, but I am very much looking forward to the experience. Majors are the pinnacle of the game and still the current measuring stick for defining a golfer’s career. Majors just feel bigger than regular events due to the staging and crowds. I won’t know until I play in Tokyo, but it will feel very different with limited fans, I am sure.”

Like most pro athletes, McIlroy got a taste of playing without fans in attendance last year during the pandemic and didn’t much care for it.

“When the PGA Tour restarted in June 2020, I soon realized how much I missed them,” he says. “For 13 years, I only ever played in front of fans, so they became part of the experience and a source of energy for me. It’s no surprise that when fans returned on the PGA Tour, I was able to win the Wells Fargo at Quail Hollow soon after. Having great fans is like a 15th club. Some players enjoyed and probably preferred having no fans, but I need them to get the most out of my game. After a bad hole, a large crowd can quickly help you forget and I tend to feed off that energy.”

Now that they are back, fans have been directing a lot of that energy toward the ongoing feud between Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau. Since fans are into it, McIlroy is as well.

“I mean, it’s fine,” he says. “I loved the video. I think it’s good for guys to show personality, which certainly brought a lot of attention to the game. Deep down, it seems harmless. It seems more positive than negative for golf, as it was widely covered by the media, especially plenty of non-golf outlets. Anytime the game of golf gets introduced to new audiences is always a positive.”

And contradicting what some — including your humble narrator — have theorized, McIlroy doesn’t think the Koepka-DeChambeau beef is related to the PGA’s Player Impact Program, a new initiative that financially rewards players for drawing attention to pro golf.

“I honestly do not think the Brooks-Bryson video that was leaked had anything to do with the Player Impact Program,” McIlroy says. “Social media is only one of five metrics used to determine a player’s ranking on the PIP, with TV and digital also being important factors. Ultimately playing great golf will positively impact rankings on the PIP, which is the primary focus for all players. I think the Player Impact Program is a great initiative that rewards those who add value to the Tour and each tournament. I can see it evolve for the better as time goes on.” 

As it evolves, the PIP will continue to benefit one golfer who isn’t currently playing: Tiger Woods.

“We all miss Tiger and a tournament is always very different when he competes,” McIlroy says. “It is especially noticeable when playing in Tiger’s group, as the crowds are just bigger and more vocal. We are all just glad that he is alive first and foremost. Everyone on the Tour wishes him a full recovery.”

Hear, hear.