TROON, Scotland – Rory McIlroy still considers himself a full-fledged member of the Fab Four.
No chance he’ll get kicked out of the group, certainly not without putting up quite a fight.
As if to show he’s still as relevant as ever among golf’s elite players, even as he approaches the two-year mark since the last of his major titles, McIlroy pulled no punches Tuesday leading to the British Open at Royal Troon.
He called out golf for its lax drug-testing procedures and questioned the relevance of his sport being part of the Olympics, saying he wasn’t even sure he’d watch it on television.
And, if there was any doubt that he still deserves to be mentioned in the same breath with Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, McIlroy pointedly reminded everyone how they rank in terms of majors.
“I’ve got four major championships, and I’d love to add to that tally,” he said, “just as those guys would love to add to their one or two majors that they have and just keep going.”
McIlroy missed last year’s British Open at St. Andrews after tearing a ligament in his left ankle playing soccer with his buddies, denying him a chance to defend the title he won in 2014.
“I guess it’s the start of a new chapter for me in the Open championship,” he said. “I’m determined not to miss any more, for the foreseeable future anyway.”
He’s even more eager to add another major title to his trophy case.
Two years ago, McIlroy followed up his victory at Royal Liverpool by winning again in the PGA Championship. He was the most dominant golfer in the game, the guy everyone else was chasing as Tiger Woods faded from view. But golf is a fickle game, and players such as Woods, who remain on top for years at a time, don’t come along often.
In 2015, Spieth surged to the pinnacle by winning the Masters and the U.S. Open, and just missing out on a playoff at St. Andrews. Before the year was out, Day had claimed his first major title at the PGA Championship, holding off Spieth.
Then, at this year’s U.S. Open, it was Johnson’s turn to shine. After some excruciating near-misses in the biggest events, he finally claimed his first major with a dazzling display at Oakmont.
“The game is in a great state,” said defending British Open champion Zach Johnson, one of only two players outside the Fab Four to win at the past eight major championships. “Great, young talents carrying it and pushing it. I don’t know if there’s a ceiling, but if there is, it seems like it’s being nudged a little bit higher month after month, year after year.”
Even though McIlroy hasn’t been a serious contender at the majors since his victory at Valhalla, McIlroy sees no reason for concern. He’s still only 27, an enormous talent who surely has some of his best golf still in front of him.
He rolled his eyes when someone mentioned a reference in the British media that he was on the verge of becoming the Ringo of the Fab Four.
“Probably the first time I’ve been compared to the Beatles,” he said, managing only the hint of a smile. “I’m happy where my game is. I can’t worry about other guys. If I focus on myself and make sure that I’m playing the best that I can, I’m pretty confident that … I’m going to win more times than not.”
McIlroy has other things on his mind as well.
He called on golf’s major governing bodies to step up their anti-doping efforts, which he said are limited to a handful of urine tests each year.
“I could use HGH and get away with it, so I think blood testing is something that needs to happen in golf just to make sure that it is a clean sport going forward,” he said. “If golf is in the Olympics and golf wants to be seen as a mainstream sport as such, it has to get in line with the other sports that test more rigorously.
Ahh, the Olympics.
So far, it’s been the predominant story line in the buildup to the golf’s oldest major championship, with Spieth announcing Monday he would follow the lead of McIlroy, Day and Johnson by not playing in Rio next month when the sport rejoins the Summer Games for the first time since 1904.
All of them cited concerns over the Zika virus as the primary reason for staying away. But, while Spieth said Tuesday it was “probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life,” McIlroy was much more cavalier about skipping the Olympics.
“I don’t think it was as difficult a decision for me as it was for him,” McIlroy said. “I don’t feel like I’ve let the game down at all. I didn’t get into golf to try and grow the game. I got into golf to win championships and win major championships.”
That was clearly a shot at golf’s Olympic boosters, who have said it’s the best way to spread the sport to nontraditional areas, with South America being at the forefront this year.
But McIlroy made it clear he’s not in that camp. In fact, he made it sound as if golf doesn’t belong in the Olympics at all.
“I’m very happy with the decision that I’ve made and I have no regrets about it,” McIlroy said. “I’ll probably watch the Olympics, but I’m not sure golf will be one of the events I watch.”
So, what will he watch?
“Probably,” he replied, “the events like track and field, swimming, diving – the stuff that matters.”
Another zinger from a player who has no intention of fading away.