Rory McIlroy is one of the best golfers on the planet, and the poster boy for golf. In Dubai ahead of Omega Dubai Desert Classic, we spoke to him at the Bose store Dubai Mall, amid a throng of fans eager to meet and greet the 26-year-old golfer from Northern Ireland. In between his fan interactions, we got to sit down with McIlroy to talk about sports and the city.
You’re a regular visitor to Dubai, what do you enjoy the most about the city?
I’ve been coming out here for 10 years and it’s great to see the changes in Dubai. I remember driving down Sheikh Zayed Road and none of the Marina was there, the Hard Rock Café was still there. It’s changed so much and the thing about Dubai is that you have all the cultural stuff, the desert and the gold souk spice souk, Deira, all the old stuff, but then you go Downtown, you go to The Palm there’s so many different areas and so much to do. I’ve been coming here for 10 years and I still haven’t done all the things I want to do. It’s incredible to see how far the city has come in such a short space of time but I love coming to Downtown and walking through Souk al Bahar, and finding some where to eat.
What haven’t you done yet in Dubai?
I want to go out to the desert and do some sandboarding, some 4x4 driving and I’ve love to go out and spend the night in the desert and see the clear skies and stars. I haven’t done a lot of the souks and I’d love to do that because that’s the real heart and soul of Dubai. But when I’m here it’s mostly taken up with being on the golf course.
What changes have you seen in golf in Dubai, in terms of the sport and facilities?
I think they’ve done a great job in getting the most of the high profile golfers here, and interest in golf has definitely spiked from the days when Tiger was coming here. I’ve been coming here for a while and getting the elite performers in our sport has definitely spiked the interest in the Middle Eastern golf circles. The courses as well, when I first came here it was the Emirates Golf Club, where we played the Desert Classic and there’s so many other courses here now. We play over at Jumeirah Golf Estates, I always practice at the Els Club, and there’s so many courses here and so much to choose from.
How do you think Dubai compares with the UK, Ireland, and States as a golfing destination?
Well, you’re guaranteed good weather that’s a good thing! Also, everything is so close in proximity. If you go to a golf trip in Ireland you’re having to drive two hours here and then an hour there, but here everything is within 30 minutes, and there’s great courses in Abu Dhabi too.
When you’re on tour what the camaraderie is like?
It’s good, and I definitely see the difference in the European Tour. I’ve grown up with a lot of the guys that are on the European Tour, I’ve known some of these guys for 15-20 years so you build up that camaraderie anyway, and I’ve got great memories with them. It’s golf at the end of the day, it’s not like we’re trying to rip each other’s heads off!
Our biggest competitor is the golf course, if we can conquer the course then we have a good chance of winning. Obviously you come head-to-head with some guys that are getting in your way.
How important are tournaments like the Desert Classic in the grand scheme of your year?
I’ve always viewed my start of the year in the Middle East as very important for me it sets the tone for what my year is going to be like. Anytime that I’ve played well in the Middle East at the start of the season I’ve gone on to play well for the rest of the season. I love starting the year here, I’ve always played well here and again it’s guaranteed good weather, good facilities.
Do you feel like you need to modify the way that you play in the Middle East, for the courses or weather?
I feel like my game sets up very well for the courses out here, desert golf. It’s dry, the ball flies very consistently because there’s no moisture in the air, so for me it suits my game very well and don’t feel like I need to modify anything, and that’s maybe why I’ve done so well over here in the last few years.
The only thing is that the greens at this time of the year can be quite grainy, the grass grows in the direction of the sun depending on what time of day it is so you have to take that into consideration when you’re putting. But apart from that I feel like it suits my game very well.
What are your goals for the year and what have you scribbled on the back of your boarding pass?
If someone actually saw the back of my boarding pass this year, they’d be quite disappointed. There are obvious goals like I want to win the Masters, and be part of a winning Ryder cup team again – those goals that are right there in front of me and are very obvious, but people wouldn’t see if I’m trying to improve some part of my game or if I’m trying to change something in everyday life.
One of my goals this year is to read more, instead of sitting down and looking at Twitter.
And how’s that going? What are you reading?
I have started well, Alex Ferguson sent me his new book, Leading, over the holidays so I read that. I was given The Prophet, it was given to us as an engagement present, and it’s quite deep so I read that, it’s quite a short book. And the previous Ryder cup captain Paul McGinley gave me a book to read about a Gaelic football manager from Ireland, it’s very motivational and I’ve just started that. Two books down and I’m on to the third one, so I’m doing okay.
You’re currently world number two, but still always considered the man to beat on the course. Do you feel pressure?
The only pressure that I feel is the pressure that I put on myself. I have gotten used to being in this position and maybe it took me a while to feel used it and I might have felt pressure from the outside, but I got to world number one in March, and I’ve experienced it for a long time so I’ve got used to the situation. Any pressure is self-inflicted.
You said you like to walk around Souk al Bahar, do you ever get mobbed?
No, that’s why I love it here I can just walk around. It’s very different to walking around in the US or the UK. I can go to Mall of the Emirates or Marina, JBR, and a few people might recognise me but it’s nowhere near if I was walking around at home in Belfast and that’s one of the reasons why I really like it here.
A lot of athletes play golf to unwind, what do you do to unwind?
Not play golf for sure! I try to have a nice balance. Over the last few years I’ve been getting more info physical fitness and I like to play football with my friends at home, I got a bit of an injury because of that last year and it took me out for a while so I don’t think I‘ll be playing football anytime soon, but I do enjoy other sports like swimming, it’s a great way to unwind, you just look at the tiles below and keep going.
You get do the Pro-Am and interact with amateur players but what’s the best piece of advice that anyone’s given to you?
I’ve been lucky to play with a lot of people who are very successful in the pro-ams, different athletes or business people, and one of the things is that when you get so engulfed in what you do, sometimes you think that’s all that matters, but when you step away from it you realise that there’s a bigger world out there and there’s more to life than you realised. Just trying to keep things simple. I try to lead a simple life, even though all of this goes on around me. If people saw my day to day routine they’d say I was really boring.
What do like to listen to do you list to music out on the course and what’s your favourite gadget?
When I’m practising on the range I like to listen to stuff that’s acoustic, mellow like Bon Iver, but in the gym it’s dance hip-hop, EDM. My music collection has become more eclectic. It used to be just house and hip-hop for a long time but I’ve started to appreciate more music. My one gadget would be the Bose QC20 in-ear noise cancelling headphones. They are with me everywhere, on the course in the gym, I love them on planes because they go in your ear so you can still put your head on the pillow and sleep.