A tearful Rory McIlroy was left too emotional to speak after winning his Ryder Cup singles match but with the European team heading for a crushing defeat.
McIlroy beat Xander Schauffele 3&2 but it was the first point he had claimed for his team of the weekend and speaking on Sky at the conclusion he twice had to compose himself with tears in his eyes.
"I love being a part of this team, I love my team-mates so much," McIlroy said. "I should have done more for them this week."
McIlroy has played in six Ryder Cups and has grown to love a contest he was initially sceptical about.
"I am glad I put a point on the board for Europe today, but I just can't wait to get another shot at this," he said.
"It is by far the best experience in golf and I hope little boys and girls watching this today aspire to play in this or the Solheim Cup because there is nothing better than being part of a team, especially the bond we have in Europe.
"No matter what happens after this I am proud of every single one of the players that played this week, I am proud of our captain and vice-captains.
"I just wish I could have done a little more for the team. It has been a tough week."
🗣 'I love my team-mates so much and I should've done more for them this week.'
An emotional Rory McIlroy reflects on ending his #RyderCup by winning a point for #TeamEurope in the Sunday singles. pic.twitter.com/3p7GY2bYJf
— Sky Sports Ryder Cup (@SkySportsGolf) September 26, 2021
McIlroy further underlined his love for the Ryder Cup in another interview with American broadcaster NBC, and said he was not ashamed to cry about the matter.
"I've never cried about what I've done as an individual," he said. "I don't give a s---."
McIlroy was dropped for the first time at the Ryder Cup after losing both his matches on the first day without progressing past the 15th green.
But after benching McIlroy for the day two fourballs, Europe captain Padraig Harrington launched a bizarre defence of his countryman’s game, saying: "Rory is very much a leader amongst his peers and I couldn't have asked more from him."
McIlroy's raw and painful reckoning brought about by challenge to perception of his abilities
By Oliver Brown
A telling incident in the life of Rory McIlroy came during the first round of the 2017 Open, just as he was slipping into one of his now-familiar funks.
"You’re Rory McIlroy," said his then caddie JP Fitzgerald, exasperated at watching another botched iron shot slice into the Birkdale rough. "What the f--- are you doing?"
It was easy to imagine McIlroy having much the same conversation with himself here in Wisconsin late on Saturday, a dark night of the soul as he adjusted to losing three matches out of three, with none of them extending beyond the 15th green.
Nothing else could explain the defiance that he summoned for his singles, in beating Olympic champion Xander Schauffele 3&2, or the tears that poured out of him as he absorbed the emotional maelstrom of the past 72 hours.
Never before had McIlroy been in such visible distress, not even when he veered into his little-boy-lost act beside Augusta’s Butler cabins a decade ago. This was a raw, painful reckoning, the product of three days that have challenged his perceptions of his own abilities.
His body language was off-key all week, lacking any of the pep or swagger that he has typically brought to these contests. Now we understood why, as his breakdown on live television revealed a profound mental anguish.
Few have held back in sticking the boot into McIlroy for his under-performance at Whistling Straits. But the reality is that nobody has a sharper awareness of his shortcomings than the man himself.
We might have thought he would be relieved at vanquishing Schauffele, an opponent to whom he had looked almost certain to lose after his failings in team play. Instead, he was a diagram of self-reproach, distraught that he had not been able to deliver a greater contribution.
To think, McIlroy had once disregarded the Ryder Cup as an exhibition, a spectacle that “in the grand scheme of things is not that big a deal to me”. McIlroy had just turned 20 when he triggered a firestorm of protest with those remarks. He is now 32, and the evolution of his outlook over the intervening years has been stark.
To look at his turmoil beside Lake Michigan, weeping several times as the lost opportunity dawned, was to realise how he has come to care about this occasion more deeply than anything else in the sport.
To the untrained eye, it had appeared as if McIlroy was on autopilot in his matches here, so unengaged that he had not even managed a birdie prior to his duel with Schauffele. But finally he spelt out the extent of his struggles, his desperation to discover any semblance of his usual game.
McIlroy has spent his entire adult life dealing with merciless scrutiny. He is subject of almost daily polemics demanding to know why he has not won a major for seven-and-a-half years, why he has not made good on his billing as the next Tiger Woods, why he has not brought his talents to maximum fruition. Cumulatively, this pressure takes a toll.
In the end, with a crushing loss looming under his friend and captain Padraig Harrington, he could stand it no longer. Asked to articulate the strain he had been under, he found that no words would come.
By degrees, we are learning in sport what happens when sports icons do not conform to the paths we have preconceived for them. Already this summer, we have watched Simone Biles abandon any attempt at burnishing her Olympic legend in favour of prioritising her mental health. While there are no suggestions that McIlroy is suffering similar agonies, we are seeing a man wrestling more than ever with his own image.
He has acknowledged before that the quest for majors no longer exhilarates him as once it did, that he enjoys his deepest contentment with his wife Erica and his baby daughter Poppy. This would appear as apt a time as any for McIlroy to retreat to his Florida home, to step away from golf for six months and not be seen until the Masters.
Even under the tutelage of the brilliant Pete Cowen, he is deriving no benefit from toiling in the global spotlight like this. Somehow, he needs to recover his spontaneity, his zest, his gift for freewheeling like his 16-year-old self.
McIlroy’s vulnerabilities are stripped bare in Ryder Cup mode. Just as the Miracle of Medinah was not complete without him missing an alarm call and requiring a lift to the course from a benevolent state trooper, so this slaughter by the water will be remembered for his tearful postmortem on his efforts.
At the climax of this, his sixth Ryder Cup, the gravity of his responsibilities were not lost on him. The recognition that he had not played to his potential for his team-mates was what hurt the most.
"I love this event, I love this team," he kept saying. There was no artifice, no pretence of exaggerating the significance. McIlroy had channelled everything he had into this display and the knowledge that he had come up hopelessly short left him feeling wretched.
It has become something of a blood sport studying his on-course travails, as he has ended up in parts of Whistling Straits that even its members never knew existed. But at the heart of the drama is somebody all too fallible, and all too human.