Analysis: McIlroy had a blast in New Orleans. It was just what he needed

Winning the Ryder Cup might have been more valuable than Rory McIlroy realized.

McIlroy already was emotionally and physically spent from Europe beating the Americans in Rome for a seventh straight time on home soil — and from the celebration into the next morning before flying home with Shane Lowry and their wives.

Turns out the party wasn't over just yet.

McIlroy sent Lowry a text the following day inviting him over to lunch. That turned into dinner, with a couple of bottles of wine in between, and visits from a few South Florida neighbors in Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald and Michael Jordan.

McIlroy called it a “ drunken lunch.” Somewhere along the way, whether it was the wine or the aftermath of Ryder Cup euphoria, he asked Lowry if he wanted to play in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, the PGA Tour's only official team event.

Equally surprising, McIlroy remembered.

“He sent me a text around Christmastime,” Lowry said, “and it was a nice little Christmas present for me to get.”

As far as team events go, the Ryder Cup and New Orleans are nothing alike except for one important element.


And that's exactly what McIlroy needed.

“The reason that Shane and I both started to play golf is because we thought it was fun at some stage in our life,” McIlroy said after their playoff victory at the TPC Louisiana. “Reinjecting a little bit of that fun back into it in a week like this ... can always help.”

Winning never hurts, though that isn't everything.

McIlroy has won six times — five on the PGA Tour, including another FedEx Cup title — since the Saudi-funded LIV Golf circuit launched in June 2022. A tournament rarely passed the last two years without McIlroy speaking on golf's most divisive topic, whether he was whipping LIV with a switch or turning around and using it to extend an olive branch.

The softened stance toward LIV for the sake of unification has put him at odds with some of his PGA Tour colleagues like Tiger Woods, Patrick Cantlay and Jordan Spieth (he used to be tight with two of them).

As for the golf, he won at East Lake for the third time (2022), in Scotland for the first time (2023) and in Dubai for the sixth time (2024).

But with McIlroy, so much is tied to the Masters and the one major keeping him from the career Grand Slam. He was out of it by the weekend, and the scrutiny in his game returned stronger than ever.

Never mind that he now has 34 wins around the world since turning pro at age 18 in 2007, or that he has gone only four full years without winning somewhere in the world. Still, it's easy to get bogged down by failure.

McIlroy said long ago when golf is going well, it's hard to remember playing poorly; and when golf is going poorly, good golf can seem miles away.

As for the fun? That's easier to find with a friend.

So imagine if he had not sent that text asking Lowry over to lunch to rekindle the good times from the Ryder Cup.

New Orleans doesn't happen. McIlroy would have rediscovered the fun again — that's part of his personality and what makes him so popular — but it's hard to imagine a celebration when someone (Lowry) lifts him off the ground like a rag doll to celebrate.

And there's no chance McIlroy would have found himself on stage at a post-tournament concert as the crowd chanted his name until he had a microphone in one hand, a beer in the other, and was belting out lyrics to Journey's “Don't Stop Believin.'”

Yeah, that was fun.

And it was good for golf to remember that's what sport should be all about. That it looked so natural should not be surprising. There's a popular phrase in McIlroy's native Northern Ireland directed at those who let their egos get the better of them — “Catch yourself on!”

Li'l Abner's Steakhouse was a popular joint when the Match Play was held in the high desert of Marana, Arizona, a decade ago. Most players paid their bills and were out the door. Not the Irish lads. McIlroy and Lowry about shut the place down, but not before stopping to talk to folks at the bar who recognized them.

It doesn't sound like it was much different in New Orleans. They received a standing ovation at Arnaud's, the historic restaurant in the French Quarter on the eve of the final round. They had the largest and loudest gallery at the TPC Louisiana.

“Every time I get to play in front of thousands of people, the little boy in me just thinks it’s so cool and so exciting,” McIlroy said.

That wasn't anything new. McIlroy became the 12th member of the 25-4 club — 25 wins on the PGA Tour, four majors — so he has played in front of thousands most of his career.

Maybe it's just that he hasn't heard it in a while. Or he got to share it with a teammate.

And by the sound of it, McIlroy can't wait to get back.


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