Given that Rory McIlroy was making his first trip to the media center since ripping his golf shirt in disgust after squandering the 54-hole lead of the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, it was only natural that he’d be asked about his Hulk Hogan moment.
Right off the bat, a reporter poked the needle, saying, “Nice shirt, it’s in one piece.”
“It is,” McIlroy shot back. “It’s another joke you tried to make that’s not that funny.”
This proved to be an early sign that McIlroy found little humor and even less interest in discussing the image of him that went viral, standing in the scoring hut after fading to 74 with his torn shirt and an exasperated look on his face.
The shirt was forgotten for the time being but it would be a recurring topic during McIlroy’s back-and-forth with the media ahead of the Hero World Challenge at Albany Club in Nassau, Bahamas.
McIlroy conceded that it was a frustrating year, one that had spurts of success, including victories at the Wells Fargo Championship in May and CJ Cup in October, “which is still pretty good,” he said, but lacked the consistency that made 2019 one of his fondest campaigns, noting “that’s the level I want to play at.”
“There was a stretch during the year where I didn’t feel like I was playing my best and went on a different path in terms of sort of looking for answers,” McIlroy said. “Feel like I’m certainly a more like a wiser player than I was maybe nine months ago.”
Despite a disappointing final day in Dubai during which Collin Morikawa zipped past him to win the title, McIlroy is playing this week’s Hero Challenge for the first time since 2013 for good reason.
“I felt while I was starting to feel like I was getting my golf game back and playing well, I wanted to play a little bit and this is another opportunity to play well and just build on, I guess build on the good play that I’ve seen over the last couple of months,” he explained.
Not long after, McIlroy was asked about his Hulk Hogan impression again.
Rory, how long did it take to rip the shirt and when was the last time you did that before Dubai?
RORY McILROY: It didn’t take — I mean, I pulled on my collar and it ripped. I don’t know if I’ve ever done it before.
McIlroy must have been glad to move on to another subject, even if it meant addressing the topic du jour that is rival leagues. Asked his opinion about PGA Tour players being granted releases to play in the Saudi International, he said, “It’s an Asian Tour event, it’s an event that has OWGR rankings, I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t.”
He added: “I think the professional game needs to get to a point where we as professionals need to know where we stand. Are we actually independent contractors? Are we employed by a certain entity? That’s stuff that’s just — there’s a lot of gray area in that and that’s what sort of needs to be sorted out, I think.”
Perhaps his most charged words on the subject of the rival leagues were these: “I think the players feel like they’re pawns at the minute in this big sort of global game of golf and we just want to know where we sort of stand. And as someone that represents the players on the PGA Tour board, like that’s on me to try to understand where we are and for people to feel comfortable playing where they play.”
Enough of that, McIlroy was then asked to relive his dismal Sunday in Dubai and cleared up the matter of what threw him into such a rage.
“What I was angry about was how I reacted to the bad break, not the bad break or the fact I didn’t win the golf tournament, because Collin played great,” he said. “It was just my reaction to that bad break that made me angry because I basically lost my head after that and made a bogey on 16.”
From the low point of being winless heading into Sunday’s singles and benched for the first time in his Ryder Cup career, McIlroy seems reinvigorated and his confidence is on the rise.
“I’m more sure of what I’m doing,” he said. “I guess it’s a bit like we sort of talk about like Manchester United over the last few games have looked like they’ve been going out playing and not really having a strategy or a philosophy of how they want to play. That sort of felt like that was me for a few months of this season.
“Now I feel like I’ve regained like what my philosophy is and what my – basically the sort of golf that I want to play.”
Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, hits a practice shot before the start of a Pro-Am golf tournament ahead of the Hero World Challenge PGA Tour at the Albany Golf Club, in New Providence, Bahamas, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
That’s when a reporter apparently went to the well one time too many for McIlroy’s taste and wondered what happened to the ripped Nike golf shirt.
“I went to the pro shop, bought a new one, threw that one in the trash,” he said. There was silence before the next question was asked, and McIlroy said aloud, “I mean, this f—ing ripped shirt, Jesus.”
But Rory being Rory, kept it together and answered a series of questions about his wedges, including that he’s upped the bounce to 14 degrees on his 60-degree wedge.
“Which has helped a lot, it really has,” he said.
Just no more questions or lame jokes about his ripped shirt, please.