The 149th Open Championship begins Thursday and Rory McIlroy, who won the competition in 2014, tees off at 10:21 A.M. EST. The golfer from Northern Ireland and former No. 1 hints that The Open aka the British Open is his favorite.
“It’s the one I dreamed of of winning, growing up, and the first one I ever attended as a kid.” McIlroy said that as a current resident of the United States, returning each year to the British Open provides “a sort of homecoming,” also adding that, “I don’t get to go back home very often and it’s always good to play in front of those fans.”
Since his good showing at June’s U.S. Open, in which he tied for 7th place, McIlroy has been plenty busy. Soon after The Open concludes at Royal St. George, McIlroy will be heading off to the Olympics.
“I’m planning to go to Tokyo, and I will be representing Ireland,” McIlroy said in June. He explains that long before golf was readmitted in to the Olympics, in 2016, he spent his amateur days in competitions in the British Isles playing for Ireland. “I just decided to continue what I’d always done, and to play for Ireland, since there was no reason to change that.”
Outside of golf, McIlory is also an active investor through his own investment partnership called Symphony Ventures. It’s been widely reported that in the first half of 2021, McIlroy and his firm took a large interest in Drive Shack, an operator of golf courses and public event spaces.
But what you may not know is that McIlroy, the current No. 11 ranked golfer, also has a keen interest in mental health, both personally as well as in business. More recently he and his firm have taken a stake in LifeStance Health, one of the nation’s largest and fastest growing providers of mental health services. The Bellevue, Washington-based company lets consumers search doctors and book appointments online with therapists and other professionals. Additionally, LifeStance offers virtual and in-person outpatient mental health care for children, adolescents and adults experiencing a variety of conditions.
“I think there’s so much more knowledge around mental health now,” McIlroy said. “And with everything that’s gone on the last year and in this social media world, the need is only going to be more prevalent.” McIlroy adds that there is a demand for tech-driven health resources to be easily accessed, especially on mobile devices. “It’s not as taboo to talk about mental health anymore, and I think that’s why companies like LifeStance are going to be important going forward.”
At the end of June, I spoke more with Rory McIlroy about his philosophy on investing, growing up in golf, and his take on The Open and other majors.
AF: The Open Championship is here. Do you look forward to playing this event as much as The Masters and other majors?
McIlroy: The comparison between The Open and The Masters is this; that they are both great in their own ways. I think The Masters is great as a spectacle, and that it’s at the same place every year, and is the first major of the season. Everyone has several months to get hyped about going back to Augusta.
But I think just the pureness of the game and its traditions—nothing beats The Open. Especially when it’s at St. Andrews, where the game was invented. Personally, for me The Open Championship is the biggest major.
AF: You’ve grown up in golf and been successful. What was winning big at such a young age like, and how have you changed since?
McIlroy: One of the things about growing in golf is that I was always around people who were older than me and a little more mature than me. I think that made me mature faster than most people my age.
Now that didn’t make me immune to the fast cars and all that. I mean, the first thing I did after I won my first big tournament was go buy a Ferrari. I thought having a Ferrari was the symbol of success. So, I still did all that, and have had my fair share of depreciating assets, which I learned very quickly don’t do you much good in the long run. I’ve done all that, and think I got that out of my system in my twenties.
Now that I’m a decade removed from that, I know that the best way to accumulate wealth is to our money away and let it work for you, and be smart with it.
AF: Greg Norman said you play with an ambassadorial demeanor that speaks well of the game. Early on, did you try to emulate golf’s legends?
McIlroy: (Laughs.) I’ve had a lot of good people around me, and that’s a reason I’m gotten to such a good point—and success at where I am today.
And I try to consider myself one of the younger guys, but I probably tend to go more toward the old school versus the new school.
AF: Ambassadorial demeanor or not, you’re still a competitor. You have fans and sponsors who expect you to win. Do you feel pressure on the course each weekend?
McIlroy: Yeah, certainly golf is quite an individual pursuit, but there is enough of a team around me that I don’t want to let them down. Whether that’s with my performances on the course, or with what I say in the media and public domain, I like to represent myself in the right way and live by the values and beliefs my parents instilled me.
I try to be a good person, and I’m not overly competitive as a person. But instead, I am overly competitive in golf, mostly because I always have been. I’m not saying my golf defines me as a person, but as a competitor it does.
AF: There’s been a spotlight on mental health in sports ever since Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open.
Golf is painted as this serene, easygoing pursuit. But is the game more tense than it looks, and how do you deal with that part of it?
McIlroy: There are times when what you shoot on the course reflects how you’re feeling as a person. But you have to realize that if you shoot 75 it doesn’t mean you’re doing bad as a person, and shooting 65 doesn’t make you a great person.
You have to separate the two and try for a good work-life balance, and that’s something that I’ve had to do. I guess that’s what you could call taking care of mental health, as far I’ve needed to go.
But you look at someone like Naomi Osaka or Michael Phelps or Kevin Love, and I think it’s great that they’re speaking out about mental health.
VIDEO: McIlroy’s first British Open saw him win The Silver Medal, awarded to the leading amateur player at the event.
AF: You’ve were the world No. 1 for 106 weeks. How important going No. 1? And what is it like losing the top spot?
McIlroy: What I will say is that getting to No. 1 for the first time is a very big deal. It’s the dream of any athlete in the world to be recognized as the best at what you do. So, to see your name at the top of the list is a lifelong goal and dream that’s been accomplished.
When I got there, nine years ago now, it was really cool and really special. What you have to realize is that the ranking is a computer algorithm, and I do think it’s the most accurate representation we have. But at the end of the day, competitive golf is about winning and winning majors, and it’s more about how many trophies can you get your name on.
You talked about Greg Norman and he was No. 1 for 331 weeks, and Tiger was well over 600. DJ (Dustin Johnson) and I were able to crack it and each be there for over 100 weeks. Phil (Mickelson) was never a No. 1 but only because he coincided with the best ever, Tiger Woods. Then he wins a major at age 50.
But I bet that for Jon Rahm it was much more important for him to win the U.S. Open then to go No. 1.