Meditation, juggling, and no more dairy - How Rory McIlroy is chasing greatness

Rory Mc Ilroy

Meditation. A new putting coach. Almost completely eliminating dairy from his diet. Reading. Mindfulness apps. Even juggling. 

Evidently, Rory McIlroy’s commitment to winning The Masters knows no bounds. 

And why not? One win at Augusta National is all that stands between the Northern Irishman's name being inscribed into golfing immortality as one of the few golfers to have completed the career grand slam. 

At the moment, you can count those to have done so on one hand. Rory would like it if you needed both. 

It’s the pursuit of such greatness, such permanence in the annals of a game where so much history has already been written that has driven McIlroy to make some significant life and lifestyle changes.

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As Edmund Hillary once said: “People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things.” Hillary was one of the first men to conquer Mount Everest. The top of his own personal Everest is in clear view for McIlroy, tantalising him, baiting him, beckoning him. 

Four times he’s tried to get there. Four times he’s come up short. 

Time, then, for a new approach. 

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“I’m focusing on the small things and not living and dying by results, not getting caught up in trying to play perfect golf,” explained McIlroy on Tuesday afternoon, less than 48 hours removed his latest attempt to summit. “It’s sort of maybe a little more acceptance, and a little bit of change in attitude, which I think has been one of the biggest keys to how I've played for the first few months of the year.”

He says he cut out dairy eight months ago to help ward off hay fever, having previously supplemented local honey a few weeks in advance of The Masters to build his immunity to the Georgia pollen. It's worked. He says he feels much less congested this year.

Rory Mc Ilroy Augusta 1

He’s also reading with a voracity that would put most librarians to shame. Favourite books that he’s read in the last year include ‘The Greatest Salesman’ by Og Mandino and two by Ryan Holiday: ‘The Obstacle Is The Way’ and ‘Ego Is The Enemy’. 

Right now, he’s working his way through ‘Digital Minimalism’ by Cal Newport and has just started on Walter Isaacson’s biography of Apple founder Steve Jobs.  

Think different, right? 

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He has also started using the Central Institute for Human Performance in Jupiter, Florida, which was recommended to him by putting coach, Brad Faxon.

“I was at a point last year where I didn't really have anyone specifically looking after my body, looking after my exercise so he sort of said, why don't you go and see these guys and see if they can help. That was the start of this journey.”

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It’s clear from listening to McIlroy that’s Faxon’s influence on him extends far beyond the practice putting green. 

“He's played, I don't know, 600 PGA Tour events and he knows how it feels and he's won,” explained Rory. “Just to pick the brain of an experienced guy like that, who was obviously a very exceptional putter, but at the same time, took the mental side of the game very seriously and did a lot of work that way, there might be some little mechanisms that worked for him. If he has ten and nine don't work for me but one does, that's one more thing that I can add to my arsenal that can help me out on the course.”

Rory Augusta 2

On the subject of the mental side of the game, McIlroy revealed he meditated for 20 minutes on the morning of the final round of the PLAYERS Championship last month, which he went on to win. 

“I'm not going to go and live with the monks for a couple months in Nepal but it's just about being able to get your mind in the right place and be able to focus and to centre yourself,” he explained. He added that he has taken to using guided meditation apps, such as ‘Calm’ and ‘Headspace’ and puts aside ten minutes per day for mindfulness. “It’s something that has helped from time to time,” he added. “Especially in situations where you need your mind to be right. 

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“My routine now consists of meditation, juggling, mind training. You know, doing all the stuff to get yourself in the right place.” 

Juggling? As in… juggling?

“It was actually cool, I was watching the [Augusta National] Women's Amateur over the weekend and I saw a few women on the range doing it, so it's catching on.”

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This introspection has been primed towards doing one thing above all else: separating Rory McIlroy the golfer from Rory McIlroy the person. 

“I am not my score; I am not my results. That's been one of my big things. I always talk about these P's that I try to practice. It’s perception. It’s perspective.

“I found what I feel is the best path forward for me and I've committed to it. It's still early in the process. I'm only a few months in to trying to get to a point where all the thoughts that I try to have and all the P's that I try to practice are all natural and subconscious. 

Rory Augusta 3

“I just felt for me to live a healthier life - not just with my career but away from the golf course as well - I just needed some of this.”

All of which has prepared the world No.4 for another tilt at The Masters, to contend for the famous Green Jacket and the perpetuity woven into it thread by thread by thread. 

He played the course last week, an experience he described as ‘lovely’. “My best experiences of Augusta have been when it's not Masters week,” he added. “It's quiet. It's serene. You could describe it as a spiritual place. 

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“I feel like when you get on the grounds at Augusta, when it's not Masters week, it's very similar to walking into an empty church. It's just got that aura, that feel, and it's a really nice place to be.”

This Sunday may well deliver him the ‘Hallelujah!’ moment he craves. Forget Joseph’s coat of many colours. Rory will settle for one that's green. But it’s a process. Seventy-two holes and eighty-six other players stand between him and glory. Not that anybody needs to tell him.

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“I'm not getting ahead of myself,” he added, with unmistakable conviction. “I'm not thinking about the tee shot on Thursday or thinking about what is to come this week. That's something I probably will never stop trying to learn or to practice. But I'm in a good place with it. 

“I would dearly love to win this tournament one day. If it doesn't happen this week, that's totally fine, I'll come back next year and have another crack at it.

“But I'm happy with where everything is: body, mind and game.” 

People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things.

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