Rory McIlroy: Pre-Championship Press Conference
BETH MAJOR: Welcome to the 2014 U.S. Open Championship here at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Very happy to have with us this afternoon Rory McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open champion. Playing in your 6th U.S. Open already. Has ten top 10 finishes in both the U.S. and Europe, including a recent victory in the BMW Championship. Can you talk about your play and coming into this week.
RORY MCILROY: Glad to be back. It doesn't feel like six years ago that I made a U.S. Open debut at Bethpage Black. Yeah, my game has been feeling pretty good. It was nice to get a win a few weeks ago in Europe. I felt like my game was trending towards -- it was building up to something like that. And it was nice to see some of the hard work that I put in pay off. Yeah, it's been a much more consistent year for me, which has been great. And that is what I was really looking forward to coming into this year. There have been flashes of very good golf this year and golf that I know is capable of winning tournaments like this. I just need to try to put it all together. One bad stretch of holes really derailed me at the Masters on the second day this year. And coming into the second Major of the year, just trying to really keep those runs off my card. And if I can do that, obviously, it's going to be a lot tougher to do it around a course like Pinehurst, but I feel like my game is in good shape. I've got a nice bit of confidence coming in here. Hopefully it will -- the good play will continue into this week and I can give myself another chance to win a U.S. Open.
BETH MAJOR: This is your first visit to Pinehurst for competitive play. Can you give us initial reactions to the course and what you've seen so far.
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, I came up here last week, Monday, Tuesday. And I didn't know much about Pinehurst. I mean, I watched a couple of the U.S. Opens in the past, '99 and '05. And it was really -- I hadn't seen it before, so I wasn't that surprised by how it looked. I think it looks fantastic. Especially with the dry weather we've had, it looks quite linksy. You've got the native areas off the sides of the fairways. The fairways are getting firm and fast. Greens are obviously very undulating. They throw the balls all different directions. And you're going to have a very imaginative and inventive short game to get the ball going. I think it will be a test for all aspects of your game. It's a long golf course, I think the longer hitters are going to have a little bit of an advantage on some holes. But, yeah, it's set up as the ultimate test of golf, like the U.S. Open always is, and I'm relishing the challenge of grinding out pars and having to get it up and down when I need to. The last couple of champions around here, they only averaged 10 or 11 greens a round, so you're going to have to have a really sharp short game. And a lot of practice has been going into that to try to get it as sharp as possible.
Q. Back in January you told the BBC that, because you didn't win a Major last year, you were hoping you'd be able to win two this year. Is that still a reasonable goal? And do you feel like you are one of, if not the, favorite entering this tournament, given how well you've been playing of late?
RORY MCILROY: I think it's definitely a reasonable goal. There hasn't been many -- you have to go back to probably Padraig Harrington in '08 to have a multiple Major champion in a single year. It doesn't happen that often. But I feel like my game is in a good enough place where I can definitely give myself a chance to do that. I've got three Majors left this season and I do feel like my game is good enough to be able to contend in all of them. Yeah, with the way I've been playing and how I feel my game is, I'm one of the favorites coming in here. There's a lot of guys that are playing really good golf at the minute, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson. I've been saying, I think this golf course sets up really well for someone like Jason Day, hits it long, hits it high, has a really sharp short game. There's a lot of guys coming in here feeling like they have a great chance to win. I put myself in that category and hopefully that sort of -- I live up to that and I can give myself a chance coming down the stretch on Sunday.
Q. The things so many players have said about this course is how patient you're going to have to be. One, do you agree with that and do you feel you're better able to handle a course where you need patience, even better than two or three years ago, is that something you've learned?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, I totally agree with that. In the 72 holes I'm hopefully going to play here, I mean, I might go at five pins, if they're pins that are accessible, pins that you feel confident that you can get to. With the way these greens are, the green complexes, anything in the middle of the green is a really good shot. And you've more chance of making your par -- making a two-putt from there, than if you go off the side of these greens and the worse thing you want to do is go long on these greens. If you're going to miss, you miss short. The greens are firm, you're playing for the ball to pitch eight or ten on each green, basically. But, yeah, it's going to be a test of patience. And I think I am better equipped than I was a few years ago. The U.S. Open I won was a very -- was abnormal. It was wet. It was low scoring. I haven't won a tournament whenever it's been like this. That's why I'm relishing the challenge. It's conditions that I haven't won in before and I'd love to be able to prove to myself, but prove to other people that I can win in different conditions. It's a great opportunity to do that this week.
Q. How strange is it to prepare for a U.S. Open without ankle deep rough along the fairways? As a related question, what's the most unusual spot you found yourself in, in practice rounds in the native stuff?
RORY MCILROY: It is unusual. You think of a U.S. Open and you think of tight fairways, you think of thick rough. I guess the last few years it's been a bit better, because they've graduated the rough off the fairways, which makes it a little more fair. But around the greens, you used to miss the green in a U.S. Open by three or four yards, and you're having to hack out of cabbage. But now you're going to have to be so -- they would only give you one option or only give you one shot to play. And now with all of these runoffs and all of these little swales and hollows off the greens and tight lies, you've got so many different ways to play. You can bump-and-run or you can putt it or you can fly it on the putting surface. And that's why I said at the start, you're going to have to be imaginative, you're going to have to be inventive and creative. You're going to have to be really creative around these greens. And that's what I've been working on the past couple of weeks and trying to play a lot of different shots and be comfortable with different shots that I might need out here this week.
Q. Any examples?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, I mean, you hit it in the native areas here and you have a 75 percent chance to get it up around the green. And even if your ball runs towards some of these wire grass bushes, it sort of seems to run away from them. Saying that, I'll probably hit it in there tomorrow (laughter). It seems like any time you hit it in there you at least you've got a chance to advance it forward and you're not going to have to hack out sideways. It's going to be very rare for someone to have to take a penalty drop because of being in a bush or in a bad lie in these native areas. It's fair. Again, it brings into play imagination, creativeness, hitting different shots out of different lies, where maybe in previous U.S. Opens, you hit it in the rough, and again you only had one option. So I haven't found myself -- you find yourself in tricky spots around the greens here, and sometimes in the native areas, and guys are going to have to maybe come up with shots that they're not so comfortable playing and shots they really don't play much week in and week out, but that's the beauty of this golf course and the beauty of what this tournament is going to test this week.
Q. You mentioned your game is trending in the right direction and sort of wanting to win in these conditions, which is something you haven't done before. I'm just curious, is there a certain amount of anxiousness to win a Major championship and has that at times gotten in the way? Secondly, given the forecast of potential rain, would you like to see this place a little softer, given that?
RORY MCILROY: I wouldn't say there's anxiousness. After the season I had in the Majors last year, I was coming in this year and making them a real priority. I want to get in contention. I want to feel the buzz of being there on the last day of Majors and having a chance to win and being more consistent. I didn't really do that at the Masters this year. I finished top 10, but I never really had a chance to win. But I had a good weekend, which was nice. As I said, I've got three Majors left this season and they're the biggest tournaments in the world and you want to try to do as well as you can in them and you do everything you can to prepare the best way possible. So, I wouldn't say there's anxiousness, but I feel like it's getting to the point where I should be at least contending again. It's only been -- it's only been five Majors, I think, since I won at Kiawah, so it's not that bad. But, again, even if it doesn't happen for me this week, getting myself in contention and feeling that buzz of having a chance, you know, that's really what I want to do. And I didn't quite hear your second part of the question. I seem to do well on wet golf courses, even though this isn't going to get wet, it will take the fire out of the golf course, which might play into my hands little bit. It might make a few holes play a little bit longer. I wouldn't mind seeing a little bit of rain. I'm fine either way. I'm mentally prepared for it to be a firm and fast test this week. But if it rains a little bit, it might make things a tad easier for me.
Q. When you got to No. 1 a couple of years ago there was an expectation you were going to take that and run with it. Obviously, last year with the equipment and all the other whatever else, it kind of derailed you. Can you talk about your desire to get back into that mode again and top of the world, and the importance of winning this tournament, the next Major. I think you might have addressed it earlier in the year, about nobody has really seized control of the Tour. Are you the guy to do that and how close do you think it is to getting back there?
RORY MCILROY: It's an interesting question. There's a lot of guys that have a chance to get to the top of the World Rankings, and obviously Adam is there at the minute and he's played really, really good golf over the last 18 months, two years to get to that point. I looked at the World Rankings and it's bunched. I'm 6th at the minute. I dropped to 11 earlier in the part of the season. So it's nice to get back up there and hopefully push back into the top five this week with a good performance. But depending on what the guys do ahead of me, there could be a real tussle at the top for that No. 1 ranking, come the end of the summer. I can't focus on that, I've just got to focus on playing good golf, trying to win golf tournaments and let the ranking take care of itself. But of course I've got a desire to get back to No. 1 in the world. I feel -- I've been there before, I know what it feels like. I want to get back there again. In terms of, as I said before, there's a lot of guys that can put their hand up and try to seize control the Tour as you called it or a rivalry or a few guys separating themselves. You've seen Bubba do it a little bit this season. He's had a few chances to win. He won Riviera. Won the Masters. He's accumulated more World Ranking points than anybody this season. He's had a great year so far. Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson, you saw those guy finish strongly last year. Jordan Spieth, who is playing so well. There are a lot of guys that can challenge for that No. 1 spot. But I'd love to get back to the point where I can seize control of that, like I did at the end of '12. Hopefully handle it a little better and keep a hold of it a little longer.
Q. Speaking of No. 1, there hasn't been a whole lot of talk this week about Tiger. Is his absence still looming as large on the players as it did at the Masters and do you miss him?
RORY MCILROY: I'm sad. I miss him, yes. (Laughter). I think, you know, it was so fresh at the Masters, he just had his back surgery and stuff, that it was still very much in the mind of a lot of people. He's now going through his rehab process and everyone is just waiting for him to come back, whether that be in the middle of the summer, end of the summer, somewhere in there. But in the absence of Tiger, it's let people come through and be more recognized and shine for how good of players they are. Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Bubba, Jordan Spieth I mentioned again, there's a lot of great players on this Tour. And Tiger has been -- we wouldn't be where we are without Tiger Woods in our game. He's done more for golf than I'd say anyone has in the past, maybe Arnold, in some way, but Tiger has brought so many new people into the game. He's given us on Tour so many opportunities to play for bigger prize money, for more exposure, everything like that. When I say I do miss him, I sort of mean it, because he's a great addition to the Tour. And he has been the face of golf for the last 15, 20 years and golf is a better sport and a better place with Tiger Woods in it. So, hopefully, he has a speedy recovery and he gets back on the course soon, because any tournament where Tiger Woods is a factor, he creates a big buzz.
Q. You talked about this course setting up well for Jason Day because of his high ball flight. You've also been known to have a high ball flight. Are you finding during your practice rounds that your approach shots are staying on the greens, are you able to land them there, and which greens are the most difficult to keep the ball from rolling off?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, it's one thing that I liked about this course when I saw it is you're going to have to -- unlike links golf where it allows you to run the ball up on to the green, anything that hits on the front of the green is just going to get repelled off to the side on those false fronts. You're going to have to go in with a lot of high shots and soft landing shots, so I like that about this course. There are going to be some greens that are going to very difficult to keep it on. I think the second green is going to be the toughest green to hit all week, because you're not just hitting on to like a plateau, but it's sort of angled away from you. The green depth where you want to land it, it's not very deep. I'd be surprised if that green gets hit 20 percent of the time this week. Then we played the 9th hole yesterday. And the pin was up on the top left. And we're hitting 8 or 9-irons in there and struggling to keep it on the green. Like a really hard 9-iron was going to pitch just on the green and be able to stop or go into the front bunker, which actually isn't a bad miss. There are going to be times this week where you're thinking, okay, if I can't keep this on the green, where is the best place to miss it? Is it the front bunker, is it off the right side of the green. You have to know where your misses are, and know where the easiest place to get up and down from. It's going to be a real mental test this week. You're going to have to be really focused for all 18 holes, I think.
Q. You mentioned or referenced it at the beginning about those stretches of tough holes that you've had at times. I believe every one's been on a Friday and it's only been a stretch of nine holes. Have you tried to examine it, is there anything going on there that --
RORY MCILROY: It's strange. You know, I think I'm first in scoring average on the PGA TOUR on day 1. And I'm like 181st on the second day. It's like so strange. I'd rather be like 70th in each. It just happened to be Fridays. I don't know if it's because I've got off to such good starts in tournaments where I may be thinking too much about my score, and I'm up near the leaderboard and I might be trying to push too much and keep it going. I spent two hours with Jack Nicklaus last week in his office in Palm Beach and had a great sort of conversation about everything, business, golf, brand, the whole lot. And I got a lot from that. And he said to me, he goes, how the hell can you shoot 63 and then 70th? I said, I wasn't meaning to, Jack. I'm trying not to. He said to me he was never afraid to change things up in the middle of a round if it wasn't going well, he felt like he wasn't swinging well. He'd make a swing change right then and there. The mental strength to be able to do that and trust what you're doing. But I had a great conversation with Jack and I feel very honored that I'm able to call him up for advice, if I need to. And he's been very generous with his time. It was great to spend some time with him last week. Some of the things he said to me, I'm really thinking about going, into this week. He was a great U.S. Open player and hopefully some of those little nuggets of wisdom that he passed on to me might help this week.
Q. You talked earlier this week and the past week about some club changes in your bag. What do you think that says about this course? And off of that, how do you think your strategy has changed for preparing for this U.S. Open versus other U.S. Opens?
RORY MCILROY: I made a couple of changes in my equipment setup. For the most part of this year I've started -- my irons have started with a 4-iron through the pitching wedge, gap wedge, sand wedge, lob wedge. So I've had four wedges in my bag. I don't see myself hitting a lot of wedges into greens out here. I've put a 3-iron back in the bag and I went with a three wedge system. There's going to be holes where you're going to lay back. I played, last Tuesday, I played one ball around here, tried to keep score, and I only had three wedge shots into greens. And the three iron you're going to have to use off some tees, some par-4s, I'll probably hit it off the par-5, 10th hole, I'll play that as a three-shot hole. The par-3, 6th hole is another one that a 3-iron is going to be needed. I felt like there's a few more three irons needed on this course than wedge shots. That's the reason I made the decision to put the 3-iron back in the bag. It's a good iron for me. The fairways are running fast, I can hit 3-iron and get it to 260, 270 on some of the shorter holes, and know that I can get that in play. That was the reason and hopefully that decision works out well this week.
Q. You seem to spend a lot of time on the range before and after. You practiced yesterday. Just wondering if there was anything in particular you were trying to fix? And secondly you talk about creativity around the greens. Are you confident you've got what it takes?
RORY MCILROY: No, not working on anything at all, to be honest. I landed at, sort of midday yesterday, 11:30, midday. And I just wanted to loosen up and hit balls. I played 18 holes on Monday at home and didn't really practice too much. So I just wanted to hit some balls and get into a rhythm. I wasn't working on too much, just hitting different shots, chips, different shots I need out on the course. Had a nice session. Worked a little bit on the short game, before heading out and playing nine holes. I'm going to do the exact same thing today. Not really working on anything specific. I've got a couple of swing shots, but nothing that I haven't had throughout the year. Just working on seeing different shots, different flights, maybe some shots that I'll need out there during the week. It was just an extended range session, because I just wanted to get myself loose and hit some balls after the flight up here.
Q. On the BBC last night, you said you had been burying your head in golf, I think was the phrase you used. Can you give us some insight in why you've been doing that, and how it's helped on and off the course?
RORY MCILROY: We're going into the bulk of the season and I'm just really enjoying my golf at the minute. I feel like my game is in a good place and I wanted to try to prolong that as much as I can. It's been -- I was down in Florida last week and the weather was good and there was no better place to spend that than out on the course and playing golf and practicing and just messing around. Messing around in the short game area. As I said, for this week, trying different shots, different sort of techniques, to make the ball do different things, and just really enjoying it, really finding my love for the game again. I'm really enjoying what I'm doing. It's nice to see -- I wouldn't call it hard work, because it's fun when you're out there and you're trying different things and you're practicing. It's good fun. And you're always looking at ways to improve. Being able to bring that on to the course and test it under Major Championship pressure, that's what it's all about. Yeah, just really enjoying my golf right now. It's a busy time of the year coming up, there's a lot of golf to play, but really looking forward to it.
Q. You talked about Jack giving you some advice. And Gary Player gave you some unsolicited advice recently, suggesting perhaps that you shouldn't live your life so publically. How do you balance or reconcile the public life that you have and the private life that you want?
RORY MCILROY: It's hard. I just want to live my life like a normal 25 year old. I know that that's sometimes hard to do, because of the public spotlight that I'm under or whatever it is. As I said, I'm playing, practicing, doing all that I can to be the best player that I can be. But, yeah, of course, you need a balance in your life where you are interested in other things. I'm no different than other 25 years old in the world. I want to go out and see my friends, have some fun. It was nice to spend a bit of time at home last week, go out in the water a little bit. But, yeah, I've stayed off social media for the most part the last few weeks. And I'm going to continue to do that for the foreseeable future. And just really, as I said previously, I'm really enjoying my golf at the minute, and just making that the No. 1 priority. That's what I want to continue to do and I feel like, if I do that, it will give me a great chance to win some of these big tournaments coming up.
Q. Given the timing of the immediacy of your breakup with Caroline, before the BMW there, what did you learn that week about going out and performing the way you did. Do those things linger for you at all?
RORY MCILROY: Of course. I mean, like -- I don't know if I learned anything, what I learned, I just went out and tried to play the 18 holes I was playing out there as best as I could and that was really it. It's nice when you get out on the golf course because you've got that -- I've said that at the time -- five hours of you're just out there with your clubs, with your caddie, trying to shoot the best score possible. Yeah, and that's why -- that's the approach that I'm sort of adopting from now until whenever. I've just kept saying that I'm really enjoying my golf at the minute, I just want to try and become the best player that I can be, and all the work that I'm doing outside of the tournaments has allowed me to go in there and play as good as I can. There's been times this year when my golf has been really good and I've felt like it's been close to the point where I can win Major Championships again. I just want to, yeah, focus on that and focus on golf. Golf has sort of been a nice release for me the past few weeks. I just want to try to keep focused on that.
Q. Was there anything in particular that prompted you to go see Jack Nicklaus? How do you go about it? Do you just ring him up and say I'm popping in?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, I blew him off, actually, to be honest. I was at the Memorial and I actually had a bit of lunch with him at Memorial. It was with Sean and myself. I said, it would be great to sit down with you for a little bit and just talk about a few things. He said no problem at all. So I was here last Monday and Tuesday. I was supposed to go for dinner at Jack's house on Tuesday night, but I got in a little bit late, so decided to leave it until Wednesday morning and met him at his office in Palm Beach. Yeah, I mean, he's always -- as I said before, he's been really generous with his time with me, offered any sort of advice that I wanted or needed. He's been great. And to have that at my disposal is -- I mean, it has to be an advantage in some way. So it's been great. Yeah, I mean, I don't ring him up, I ring his secretary up and say, I'd like to schedule a meeting, please. But it's been great to spend some time with him and I feel like I've got a really good rapport with him.
Q. How close did you hit it on No. 1 yesterday? Did that give you the feeling, hey, maybe this is my week?
RORY MCILROY: I hit it pretty close. I hit 4-iron off the tee and I hit it down the left side of the fairway and it went a little further than I expected and it left me in with a wedge. I hit it to like ten feet. If I can hit four shots like that starting out the next four days, I'll be very happy. It's all about hitting in the middle of the greens on this golf course and staying patient and sort of making your pars and letting some birdies get in the way. Hopefully, I can do that. But it should be a fun week. I'm really looking forward to it.
BETH MAJOR: Thank you so much for joining us and spending some time with us today.
RORY MCILROY: Thank you.
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