Growing up in Northern Ireland, Rory McIlroy used to spend hours creating himself in the "Tiger Woods PGA Tour" line of video games. "I'd have the big afro going on then give myself one of those John McEnroe headbands to funk it up a bit." It was quite the look.
These days, McIlroy isn't only featured in the video game as one of golf's fastest-rising stars, he's sharing the cover. EA producers even went so far as to update the physics of the game so Rory's trademark hair could flap in the wind during play.
Unfortunately for EA Sports, they were a little late. "I just had my hair cut last week," Rory says. "I don't think anyone will even recognize me anymore.
"I wonder if they have time to get my new look in the game."
Jon Robinson: They call you the next Tiger Woods, now you're sharing the cover with him on his video game. Did you expect anything like this to happen so early in your career?
Rory McIlroy: No, not really. When I got the news that EA wanted me to be on the cover, I was really happy. I look at it as quite an honor because I grew up playing the game. I've been a fan of the game throughout the years, and I still play, so to be on the cover with someone I've looked up to my entire life is pretty cool.
Jon Robinson: What does it mean to you when people refer to you as the next Tiger?
Rory McIlroy: In a way it's good, but it also adds a bit of pressure on you. It's nice that people think that you have the potential to be as good as what he is. So it's nice, but I need to just concentrate on my own game and see how it goes. I have to go out and win, then I can see if I can go out and challenge Tiger one day.
Jon Robinson: They added the Ryder Cup in this year's game and are featuring 12 versus 12 online. How do you see this changing the way people play video game golf?
Rory McIlroy: Especially with online gaming now, it's becoming a lot more social. You connect to your friends and play and you can talk to each other while you play, so it's not just about you sitting in your house by yourself. Now you can play the game and share it with other people. That's pretty cool because you don't get a chance to play much team golf in the game, so for the Ryder Cup to be a part of it and for you to be able to play with your buddies is a pretty cool idea.
Jon Robinson: How about the Ryder Cup in real life? What makes the event so special to you?
Rory McIlroy: The tradition of the event and the rivalry that has built up throughout the years is pretty intense. The U.S. won the last time it was played, so this year, Europe is trying to win it back. It's a great competition and a great event for golf that gets everyone really excited.
Jon Robinson: So if I'm playing as Europe in the game, why should I select you as my team captain? What can you do to help me win?
Rory McIlroy: [laughs] I don't know if I can answer that. I suppose with the event taking place in Europe this year, we have a bit of a home field advantage, and I'm pretty comfortable anytime I've played team golf before. I like to lead off the team and go out first in the matches to try and get a point on the board early. I'm pretty comfortable in that role and taking on the responsibility of trying to build momentum for the team.
I'm also pretty good off the tee, so just take your driver and hit the ball as me as far as possible.
Jon Robinson: "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11" also features the Ryder Cup course, Celtic Manor. Any advice on how to play the course in the game from what you've experienced in real life?
Rory McIlroy: I've played it once before and it's quite a demanding golf course off the tee. You need to drive the ball pretty well, but there are a few holes you can take advantage of. There's a drivable Par-4 on the back 9, I think it's 15, so you have to try and make birdie or eagle there. Then there's a few lines off the tees where you can cut the corners to make them a little shorter. I'm sure once people play the course a few times, they'll know their way around pretty good.
Jon Robinson: Besides "Tiger," what other video games do you play?
Rory McIlroy: I also played a lot of "FIFA" growing up. These days I play a lot of "Call of Duty" online with friends, and a lot of sports games like "NBA Live" and "Madden."
Jon Robinson: What's the best thing about playing video game golf as opposed to going out and playing for real?
Rory McIlroy: I can shoot a lot lower scores in the video game than I can in real life. [laughs] I shot something like a 56 at Sawgrass before in the game.
Jon Robinson: The Wii version of the game uses motion controls. Do you think kids can actually learn how to swing a real golf club by playing the game?
Rory McIlroy: Definitely. I really enjoy playing "Tiger Woods" on the Wii, and you can set the levels to easy, medium, or hard, so I think it's definitely a good way for kids to learn the motion of a golf swing if they want to get into the sport. It makes it more fun for them as well. Technology has come so far the past few years, it's pretty impressive.
Jon Robinson: Switching gears to your real golf game out on the course, how has your sudden rise to stardom been for you personally?
Rory McIlroy: It's been great. It's probably been a bit faster than I thought it would be, but it's been great. I've really enjoyed it, and I think that's one of the reasons why I've done so well because I love playing golf and that's all I've ever wanted to do. As long as I keep enjoying my golf, then hopefully I'll be able to play well.
Jon Robinson: Is there anything you could learn from the celebrity and the pitfalls of stardom that we've all seen Tiger deal with so publically?
Rory McIlroy: Yeah, and obviously it's been unfortunate, what's happened, but I've always looked up to Tiger as a golfer and he has always been incredible on the golf course. He's still one of my heroes, but yeah, it has been a bit of a learning curve for me in a way because you always have to be careful. You always have to think that someone is going to be watching or looking. Everyone can learn from it in a way.
Jon Robinson: So for gamers out there who might be learning about you for the first time, why should they play as you in "Tiger 11?"
Rory McIlroy: I can relate to the people playing the game because I play it myself and I grew up playing it. I feel very lucky to be in the game and to be on the cover. I appreciate just how big this really is.