NORTON — On top of this weekend’s Dell Technologies Championship, Rory McIlroy has events on four different continents in the coming months. It’s easy to see why he isn’t able to find time for other sports.
“Golf takes up most of my day,’’ said McIlroy on Thursday, “so there’s not much time for anything else.’’
The 29-year-old, commenting on his rigorous schedule, lamented that he “won’t have an offseason.’’ Yet, despite his worldly obligations, McIlroy said that he might find himself — of all places — on a tennis court.
“We just bought a new house and there’s a tennis court there, so I might try to start hitting tennis balls again and get back into it.’’
McIlroy, who is from Northern Ireland, started playing golf at the age of 2. His ability — and potential — was apparent at a young age, though he was never confined to only golf.
“I tried to play other sports when I was a kid. I don’t know how good I was at them,’’ he said with a smile. “I played a little bit of soccer, rugby, and tennis.’’
And McIlroy’s not the only professional golfer with such a background. For a sport defined by its specialized skill, a number of golfers on the PGA Tour grew up in fairly normal athletic circumstances.
“I think I played all the sports your stereotypical little kid played,’’ said Justin Thomas, the defending Dell Technologies champion. “I played soccer, indoor soccer, T-ball, I played basketball through middle school. I really liked basketball.’’
Dustin Johnson, currently the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer, had a similar story. Along with golf, it was “basketball, baseball, and soccer. They kind of all got the same amount of time growing up.’’
Bryson DeChambeau, who won last week’s Northern Trust, offered the most diverse answer.
“I played a lot of sports, basketball, volleyball, soccer. I was a goalie at soccer, [with] hand-eye coordination stuff,’’ DeChambeau said. “Volleyball I loved, [and] I loved Ping-Pong.’’
But were any of these golfers — all of whom are near the pinnacle of their sport — any good in the non-golf sports world?
“I used to practice at lunchtime with a couple of buddies of mine against this little robot,’’ DeChambeau explained of his Ping-Pong days. “We bought a robot, not kidding, and we got a robot where this thing would shoot out the ball, different velocities, and different spin rates. This is what professionals practice with. We practiced every lunch period for a couple of years. And I got pretty good, needless to say.’’
Thomas, describing his early days in basketball, offered a harsher analysis.
“I wasn’t that good,’’ he said. “I wasn’t a good shooter, but I was a good ballhandler and passer. It’s hard to be good at basketball if you can’t shoot very well, so that career ended quickly.’’
McIlroy has talent with a soccer ball, as he proved in a 2017 Instagram video when challenged to a skills competition by none other than Cristiano Ronaldo.
Yet his history with the sport is mixed, given the injury he suffered while playing. The ruptured ligament in his left ankle kept him out of golf for weeks in the summer of 2015, drawing the ire of critics who questioned his focus. On Thursday, McIlroy indirectly referenced the incident, but dismissed the possibility of giving up on a sport he clearly enjoys.
“I did play soccer up until a couple of years ago,’’ he said, “and that’s to be continued.’’
As for Tiger Woods, the 42-year-old has a history with baseball. He once took batting practice with Ken Griffey Jr. and the Seattle Mariners before a game in 1999. And as Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz said in a recent interview, Woods demanded to hit against the longtime ace of the Atlanta Braves.
“He claims he went 1 for 4,’’ Smoltz said. Woods referenced his baseball background in a pre-round interview on Thursday, highlighting the virtue golfers see in playing other sports.
“I trust my hands. And I always have,’’ Woods said. “My hands have always been the thing that I’ve always trusted the most. And that stems from baseball. Playing so much baseball. Your hands are everything.’’