Rory McIlroy is a name that is constantly mentioned as a favorite when he is entered in a tournament. He won the U.S. Open in 2011 and is a Masters win away from owning a career grand slam. He comes into the week as a new father, which often times provides a calming influence for a player. Tuesday afternoon McIlroy took time to talk to the media after his practice round. The notes were compiled by Dennis Miller.
THE MODERATOR: We’re pleased to have 2011 champion Rory McIlroy to the 2020 U.S. Open interview area. Rory is currently No. 4 in the world, the four-time major champion, and he is making his 12th start in the U.S. Open. Rory, just to start it off, just some initial reactions to the course here at Winged Foot.
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, it’s awesome. I’ve never been here before. This is the first time I’ve had a look at it. Played 18 holes yesterday and loved what I saw. It’s hard, obviously, but I think it’s very, very fair. I said to someone yesterday when I played Oakmont for the first time, my initial reaction was, this place is impossible, where it’s not — this course doesn’t feel quite as — it gives you a little more chances if you miss it, I guess. You can run the ball up on to the greens and maybe a touch more playable, but it’s a tough track, and I’m still learning it as I go here. I’m going to go and play nine holes this afternoon after this. But I loved what I saw yesterday morning, and I’m excited to get going.
Question: You said yesterday you didn’t think it was quite playing as long as maybe you had thought or at least if you look at the card. Can you talk about how you think it’s going to play for the week and what’s the most challenging part of this golf course?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, so I think when you read articles about golf courses and you — Dan and I were having this discussion yesterday; sometimes they get so hyped up and so made into these — this is a wonderful golf course, and I think one of the best that I’ve played for a U.S. Open, but you still get here and — I thought I was going to have to hit driver, 5-iron into every par-4, and it’s not quite like that. There’s still places where precision beats power, and that’s been the case here at U.S. Opens in the past. But not as many drivers off tees as I thought there would be, which is good. You’ve got to put your ball into position, and then once you do that, that’s a tough part, and then getting it on to the right levels of these greens, leaving it below the hole, giving yourself decent putts. I think this place tests every single aspect of your game, so I don’t think I could single out the toughest thing that you need to do or the hardest thing you’re going to have to do this week. It’s all pretty tough.
Question: You said not many drivers; I’m curious, 6 and 11, do you think you’ll be going for 6, and just more generally speaking, how do you go about mapping your strategy for risk-reward holes like that where the data or some visualization might say go for the green or wisdom might say lay back. How do you approach that?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, so again, this course is a little different than it was in previous championships, so there isn’t much data to look back on and see what other guys did. You think about the last major championship played here in ’06, the game has changed dramatically since then in the last 14 years. The game is different. So, I don’t think — other stops that we go to throughout the year, you can look back on previous years and see — and maybe make a — like the 10th at Riviera, for example. You have data for that every year. Everyone knows by now the best way to play that hole is to go for the green. That’s the best way to make a 3. But here you don’t really have that. It’s a matter of playing practice rounds, getting comfortable. Honestly, on the 6th hole I’m more comfortable hitting a driver up at the green than I am hitting a 3-iron for a lay-up. That hole is certainly one that suits my eye and suits hitting a cut driver in there. And hitting shots from the front bunker there yesterday, it seems like if you’re in that front bunker, it’s pretty good to most pin positions. And then on 11, I can’t see — I don’t see many people hitting driver on 11. You can carry that bunker on the left, but then the fairway is like a hog’s back. It just doesn’t seem as if a ball can stay in that fairway if you carry it over. That’s not a hole that I would — that’s something I would just be trying to hit something down to the bottom of the hole and hitting a 9-iron or a wedge in.
Question: J.T. called this a different kind of fun, I guess in like a sick, perverse way. I’m curious if you relish that challenge, and at what point does it venture from extremely difficult to then goofy golf?
RORY MCILROY: You know, look, I’ve only played 18 holes here, but there would have to be — something would have to go seriously wrong to get into the realms of goofy golf. I think good shots here seem to get rewarded. It’s not — again, going back to Oakmont, Oakmont is a wonderful golf course, but I think Oakmont setup normally is right about on the edge, and if you just go a little further, then that can start to get a little goofy, where here it doesn’t seem like that can happen. Certainly, if you get it way too firm and you get some crosswinds and stuff, it can get pretty dicey, but from what I’ve seen yesterday and today, I expect that not to happen. It’s cooler temperatures. I’m sure the course can get pretty firm, but it’s a little different in September than it usually is in June, as well, I guess.
Question: How are Poppy and Erica doing, and how was it being at home last week?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, they’re doing great. Thankfully everyone is healthy, which is obviously the most important thing. Yeah, they’re good. Erica has bounced back well. She’s back doing our four-mile runs and stuff in the morning, so a lot tougher than I am. But yeah, everyone is good at home. It was tough to leave on Sunday. Could have spent an extra couple of days there for sure. But yeah, everyone is good, thankfully. And just grateful that everything is good at home, and it allows me to come up here and focus on what I’m supposed to do.
Question: Have you changed a diaper?
RORY MCILROY: I actually changed the first two diapers, so I’m very proud of that. But yeah, I’ve got my hands dirty; put it that way.
Question: How has it been for you playing without fans and just kind of are you used to that experience yet?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, I’m used to it now. I think at the start it was different. It was interesting. You know, I’ve been pretty vocal on the fact that it took me a while to adjust to not having fans. But it’s sort of become the norm nowadays. Look, it’s different. I wish we were playing in front of fans, especially here in New York. It’s a different reception than you receive most other places in the country. You know, hopefully this is the only one that it’s going to happen, and we can get back to somewhat normal life next year and crowds are allowed back and we can do what we want. Yeah, but it is different, but it has to be this way for a while, unfortunately, but hopefully not for too much longer.
Question: You’ve been No. 1 so much of the time over these past few years, but in the majors you have struggled, I think, more than people would have expected. Is that something that you put any analysis into or that you’ve mulled over to think of what can you do to bring it up in those tournaments to match the rest of your play?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think if anything, if you’ve looked at my major championship performances over the last few years, I’ve just gotten off to slow starts. I probably just put a little too much pressure on myself going into tournaments. And from there, shooting a bad score on the first day and putting yourself under even more pressure from there to just make it to the weekend, and then to try to play catch-up. I think that’s been the big thing. When I start tournaments well, I seem to stay up there. I started Pebble last year with a nice score and stayed up there for the most part. I didn’t quite finish the week the way I wanted to. But that’s been the big thing for me. If I can start and put a good solid round together on a Thursday, I’m usually right there.
Question: Gary Woodland said that he thinks that the long hitters like yourself will have a major advantage at this course. I know you’re saying you’re not going to have to take as many drivers as you thought, but with the rough being where it is, if you’re farther down, what kind of advantage do you think you might have?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, I think any golf course that we go to nowadays the longer hitters are going to have an advantage. I’m not saying I’m not going to hit drivers. I think in my mind I just expected I was going to hit 14 drivers and whatever the par-3s are. I hit 3-wood into one of the par-3s yesterday, so it wasn’t that much less than driver. Yeah, look, every course we go to nowadays, it’s the way that the modern game has went. The longer you can hit it, the more advantage you have. And as I said at the start of this press conference, the course does allow you to run balls up onto the green. So, if you are in the rough and you are down there, you have a chance to advance it onto the green and give yourself a putt for birdie or at least get out of there with a par. But I still don’t think that’s a — I’d still take hitting fairways over hitting it 350 in the rough here.
Question: Aside from being up all night, has fatherhood relaxed you? Do you come in here with a little better frame of mind?
RORY MCILROY: I think so, yeah. I mean, I’m — I sort of referenced this a couple weeks ago. I think it just puts things in perspective a little bit. Not that this — not that my career — it matters to me and I care about it very much, but at the same time, it makes the hard days a little easier to get over, right. And I’m not saying that I want to have hard days to get over, but yeah, you’re a little more relaxed. When I say it’s not the be-all and end-all, it’s a major championship and I’ve grown up my whole life dreaming of winning these tournaments, and that’s not going to change, but if it doesn’t quite happen, I can live with that and go home and be very happy and leave what’s happened at the golf course at the golf course. I think that’s maybe something that I haven’t done so well in the past is I haven’t left my job at the office basically, I’ve brought it home with me, and I’ve let it affect my mood and how I am. I think having that little bit more perspective definitely helps.