(This article first appeared in Flagstick Golf Magazine, Digital Edition, in December 2013)
Few golfers in the world attract as much attention as Rory McIlroy. At a tender age he has already captured two major championships in convincing fashion. Playing Titleist equipment most of his career, it was big news when Nike Golf brought him on board as a brand athlete one year ago.
After signing a contract with huge financial rewards, a slump in play had critics speculating that his new equipment was the source of his issues. McIlroy himself says he has complete faith in his equipment and his lull was nothing more than a swing issue he let get out of control. As 2013 ends his game is showing its full promise again including some strong late season finishes. He’s done it with a new Nike driver(Covert 2.0) and golf ball (RZN Black) in his arsenal.
We caught up with the Northern Irish sensation in Las Vegas, on a pit stop between the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai and the Australian Open, to talk one on one about his equipment and his relationship with the people who make it.
FGM – As you progress in your professional career how technical have you become when it comes to choosing your golf equipment?
RM – Yeah, I think I’m not sure technical is the right word, I’m definitely more knowledgeable about what’s going on. I’ve definitely learned a lot just from this year and working closely with the design team, the R&D team about the properties of a golf club and a golf ball and what I like to see. I’m the first one that if somebody gives me something and I hit it well, no matter how it looks, if it performs well, I’ll want it in the bag. I guess I’ve learnt more this year about the design of a golf club and about centre of gravity, MOI’s and all that stuff. I wouldn’t be a technically minded person in terms of how I swing but it’s good to know this stuff about golf clubs and about golf balls. The most important this is that it performs well.
FGM – So for your equipment validation process, when you’re looking to add new clubs to your bag, you depend more on performance versus the numbers or are the numbers something you look at more now?
RM – This year I’ve started to use TrackMan a lot more than I have in the past and numbers, of course they matter but the numbers have to match up to what you’re seeing on the course or what you’re seeing in the flight as well. You could hit a driver on the range with TrackMan and the numbers could be absolutely perfect and then you go on the course and you can’t hit a fairway. Then you say, this isn’t going to work so you got to go back and figure out what works for you on the golf course. If had to do this whole year over again I would have played more at the start of the year because that’s where, on the course, under pressure, is where your weaknesses show. You can stand on a range all day and hit good shots because you’re not under pressure but once you’re on the course that’s where you get found out. So if I had to do anything over it would probably play a little bit more at the start of the year but it was okay. I got the hang of it and knew through tournament play I’d figure this (golf clubs) is actually what I need or this isn’t quite going to work for me. It’s just a process I guess.
FGM – What do you feel is the advantage of being with a company like Nike? Are there some different elements that other companies can’t provide?
RM – Oh, for sure. I guess the big attraction to me, I mean it’s the biggest sports company in the world. You know I’ve always associated Nike with being the best because they had the best athletes involved with them. I grew up watching Tiger, I grew up watching tennis and the likes of Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, in terms of say, soccer for instance it was Cristiao Ronaldo or Ronaldinho or Ronaldo from Brazil. It seemed like all the best athletes in the world wore Nike and wore that swoosh and were in it like Peter Sampras, and, going back in time, Michael Jordan, obviously. Those sort of big athletes that are the best in what they do, the icons of sport, and all of them were in Nike. So obviously, in terms of the brand and image they can do so much but I don’t think people see how much R&D and design goes into their golf business and I think you can see today how much work they put in and how passionate they are about that. That’s something, you know, whenever I was thinking about going with Nike, that’s something that really hit home with me. These guys are really passionate about what they do; they really work hard and they strive to produce the best stuff they possibly can, and was something that really was attractive to me.