LONDON – Rory McIlroy walks in with that famous mop of hair as his only entourage, shakes hands, smiles warmly and starts talking about how he doesn't want to be nice anymore.
The freshly minted U.S. Open champion has been on a whirlwind round of promotional commitments since he charmed the crowd and demolished the field at Congressional Country Club en route to an eight-shot victory that was one of the finest performances in the history of major championship golf.
Ten days have passed since his personality, demeanor, and red-hot performance led to chants of "Rorrrr-y" all around Bethesda, Md., so news that he wants to tap into an unpleasant streak within comes as a little bit of a shock.
Fortunately, he is referring to his golf game which, as the world discovered, is just plain nasty. But don't let his boy-next-door grin fool you either, McIlroy is determined to harness a hint of arrogance which he is only just beginning to understand.
"There definitely is that sense when you win a major, people are going to see you and come at you a little different," he told Yahoo! Sports at an event hosted by his apparel sponsor, Oakley, in west London. "And honestly, there is also a difference in the way you approach it yourself.
"You do have that kind of superiority complex in a way and I don't think that is a bad thing at all. It takes a while to figure it out and understand things and get perspective, but yes, a superiority complex can be a positive. You have to get yourself into this mentality where you think you are going to go out there and beat everybody else."
It was that mindset which kept him on a straight path to his first major triumph, just when memories of his collapse at the Masters could have so easily consumed him.
McIlroy might possess the small-town charm of his upbringing in Northern Ireland, but, romantic as the notion might be, this is not a kid who is still wide-eyed and in awe of either his surroundings or opponents. He knows he belongs, that he is one of the best – and after the event of just over a week ago, why wouldn't he be?
British sports has made a habit of producing loveable losers who had plenty of ability but not necessarily the hardened edge needed to scale the highest of athletic peaks. Perhaps that is why no homegrown male has won the Wimbledon men's singles for 75 years, or even why the Open Championship's Claret Jug has been hoisted by British hands just once since 1993.
McIlroy is cut from a different cloth and though talk of him being the next Tiger Woods was as premature as it was inevitable, there are some clear similarities. The boy from Holywood – a quiet hamlet just outside Belfast – has an aura of Tiger-esque belief. He is not ashamed of his talent, nor does he back off about what standard he feels he can achieve.
Balancing that competitive streak with his maturation into a pretty impressive young man was a challenge that he has gone some way toward mastering, and he seems to take pride in the way he can now be thoroughly pleasant company off the course, but a warrior on it.
"The thing with me is that I was very cocky as a kid," he said. "When I was growing up I was winning all these junior tournaments. Then when I got older I realized that is not a nice way to be and not the way I wanted to come across. So I toned it down a lot and I went a bit too far the other way. I think I got to the point where I was almost being a bit too nice.
"You have to force yourself to be a bit arrogant in a way, and that is not something that comes totally naturally to me, but it is something that can be of benefit. I was a bit too conscious of how I was coming across. Inside I have that bit of swagger and belief in my game and I need that on the course. Now I have found a good balance."
Like any teenager the young McIlroy soon realized life is a whole lot easier if you are well-liked, and friends from his childhood who are still around today helped keep him grounded in the early days on tour.
Questions over his mental toughness were understandably raised after the Masters, but were swatted away in emphatic fashion over a magical four days at the U.S. Open. There was no doubt that over the final two rounds he carried the Masters pain with him, not as a burden but as a galvanizing force.
Success may have come to McIlroy at just the right time, at a point in his career and his life when he is truly ready to handle all that comes with it.
"When I was winning as a kid it made me feel like I was better than everyone else," said McIlroy. "When you love golf so much and it is so important to you, doing well at it gives you this sense of self-importance.
"The way I view things now is very different. I may be better than you or most people at golf and I can say that and feel that and it doesn't matter because … I am. Facts show that.
"But there are a million and one things that other people are much, much better than me at, and those things are just as important. So that keeps it in perspective a bit. I feel now that I should have perhaps won more considering some of the golf I have played. Winning is what it is all about."
McIlroy has not played a round since winning the U.S. Open, such have been the demands of the time of the new prince of golf. He will go to Germany to watch David Haye fight to unify the world heavyweight boxing title and then return to the range and the course next week.
He will not play again until the British Open, when all eyes will be upon a young man of which so much is expected.
"I have not even played a tournament yet so we will see how it goes, but I think it is natural that when you have played very good golf at one of the biggest tournaments in the world you set new standards for yourself."
With that he stood and turned to leave, interview over. Just before he reached the door though, he turned over his shoulder. "But I know what I'm capable of."
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