Rory McIlroy Pre-Championship
BETH MAJOR: Welcome to the 113th U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club here in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. We're joined by 2011 U.S. Open champion, Rory McIlroy. You won that week in memorable fashion and have enjoyed wonderful success since then. Can you talk about being a U.S. Open champion and how that has carried you since then?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, for sure. Breaking through at Congressional a couple of years ago it was something that I'll never forget. Winning your first major, I guess, winning it in the fashion that I did as well, there might be a few similarities to the way Congressional played to the way this week's going to play. It was soft then and it's obviously going to be soft again this week.
But it's great to have my name on that trophy and obviously I would like to get it on that trophy a few more times as well. But looking forward to this week. The U.S. Open's always a very special tournament, a tournament that all the guys look forward to. They call it the toughest test in golf and it's a pity that it has rained so much the last few days and might not play as tough as it usually does, but it's still going to be a good test out there and you're still going to have to play some good golf.
BETH MAJOR: You were here for two days last week, talk about how you found the course at that time.
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I found that I never really played a course like it where you have a pretty tough start the first six holes, where you have got a couple of chances, but then you're sort of playing for your pars. Then you got a stretch of seven holes after that from 7 to 13 where you've got a lot of wedges in your hand and you have a lot of chances to make birdie.
Then again you've got the last five holes, where you're sort of just hanging on. I think once you cross that road, from the 13th green to the 14th tee box, that's where you're going to need to make the bulk of your score, because I don't think many guys are going to pick up too many shots on that final stretch.
BETH MAJOR: Thank you. Open it up for questions.
Q. Talk about your Thursday/Friday pairing with Tiger and Adam, having the top three ranked golfers in the world all together.
RORY McILROY: It's something that wasn't too much of a surprise. The guys at the USGA have done it quite a few times before. It's always nice to be a part of a group like that. Something that I'm excited about. It's a good thing. I like it because you're in a group like than there's a lot of buzz and a lot of atmosphere around it and it gets you focus from the first shot.
Teeing off on Thursday afternoon, there's obviously going to be a lot of attention on that group and it's just nice to be a part of it.
Hopefully I'll go out there and play well and have a good couple of days.
Q. Are you going to be part of the Champions Dinner tonight? That collection of talent in one room may not come together again.
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I'm going to be a part of that dinner. It's obviously a great honor to be a past champion and to be able to go along to that and mix with so many of the great past champions that the U.S. Open has.
It's only the second dinner in 118 years, so it's, as I said, it's pretty special to be a part of and I'm looking forward to it.
Q. That famous photo of Hogan is plastered everywhere around here. What goes through your mind when you see that and do you own a copy of it?
RORY McILROY: Do I own it?
Q. What goes through your mind when you look at the famous photo of Hogan on the 18th?
RORY McILROY: I don't own a copy of it, no. And it's one of the iconic pictures of golf. I think when you think of Ben Hogan you just think of the swing and you think of the mystique and the aura that the man had. I don't know if this place makes that shot much more special or if his shot made that venue a little more special. But it's great to be back to a place where so many of the legends of the game have played.
Q. You mentioned the similarities to Congressional. When you saw the weather forecast and a course that is expected to give up a lot of birdies, did your eyes light up?
RORY McILROY: A little bit, yeah. I didn't really enjoy the Olympic Club last year. I much prefer this sort of golf, I guess. When you hit a shot and it doesn't bounce one way or the other, when you hit it and it stays where you think it's going to stay. There's still not going to be that many birdies out here. You've still got to hit it on the fairway. It's still a pretty tight golf course. So when you do get it in the rough, you're not going to make birdies out of there. So you're going to have chances, but you're going to have some holes where it's going to be very difficult.
I expect the scores to be a little lower than what they would be if the course was a little firmer and dryer, but I don't think you'll see scores like the scores that were shot at Congressional a couple of years ago.
Q. Obviously been an up and down year for you. First off, what's been the most difficult part of the season for you, whether it's been on the golf course or off it?
RORY McILROY: I guess managing the expectations, probably, of myself and of other people. Coming off the back of a great year last year, and I guess expecting myself to emulate that or even try and do better and it hasn't really happened so far. I feel like it's close. I've been seeing a lot of positive signs in my game the last few weeks. But that's been the most difficult. You always want to go out and play well and you want to you want to contend and win tournaments and I haven't done enough of that this year.
Q. What's the best part of your game right now coming into this week?
RORY McILROY: My iron play's good. It's dialed in. As long as I just put it on the fairway, I feel like I can take advantage of that.
Q. What happened when you switched equipment? Secondly, do you have any arranged events in China with Tiger or somebody this year after the season?
RORY McILROY: First question was about equipment? Yeah, there's always going to be a little bit of a transition period switching over. But I feel like it was it went as smoothly as it could have went. There's always going to be a little time where you have to adjust to new things and find what's right for you. I would rather do it right away than sort of let it linger for any period of time. So I would rather do it in the first two or three months of the year and get it over and done with.
Secondly, yeah, there might be a possibility of an exhibition game with Tiger at the end of the year in China, yeah.
Q. You and Graeme exchanged a greeting real quick as you walked past. Is your relationship back where it was in the past and are you guys spending any time together leading up to the U.S. Open this year?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, it's as good as it's always been, I guess. I haven't really spent much time with him. We played together at Wentworth a couple of weeks ago and then I think he's taken a couple of weeks off. I went and played Memorial. So, but, yeah, it's always as good as it's always been, yeah.
Q. What challenges does the wicker basket present versus the flag?
RORY McILROY: When we were here on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week the lasers that we tried to pick up the flags couldn't pick up the wicker baskets, so that was one challenge. But I guess if it gets windy, you still know where the wind is, where the wind is blowing. I guess it's just we're so used to looking up at the flag stick and seeing that it's blowing a certain direction and just for confirmation before you pull the trigger more than anything else. But you just have to commit and trust yourself and trust your caddie and trust that you've got the wind right.
Q. Talk about the 10th hole? Is that a hole where you see yourself possibly going for it off the tee and do you see the chances that other guys will maybe do the same thing?
RORY McILROY: No. When I was here last week Tuesday and Wednesday the course was obviously a little bit firmer and I can't see anyone going for it at all.
Now that it's so soft, personally I won't be going for it. I think there's just too much trouble on the left side to go for it. They can put that pin in a tricky little position and you're better off hitting a sand wedge in from 80 yards than you are from trying to go for the green. So I'll be playing it as a two shotter all week.
Q. You talked about the challenge or the buzz playing with Tiger. Is there also a challenge to playing in the same pairing as Tiger? You look at maybe some of the difficulty Sergio had earlier this year. The stuff maybe outside the ropes. Is there a challenge for players playing with him?
RORY McILROY: I guess there is for some guys that aren't used to playing with him. But I feel like I've played quite a lot of golf with him over the past couple of years and I guess it's something that I'm used to. It's not at the start, yes, it's something you have to sort of adjust to, but now it's something that I don't really think about.
Q. Can you talk about how different this year is than last? Last year you go in as the defending champ, a lot of attention on you, you struggle at Olympic. As opposed to this year, maybe not under the radar but there isn't so much attention on you as there was last year, you can kind of go out, focus on your game and try to get ready for Thursday?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, for sure. I guess that the two majors that I've won I've sort of come in a little bit like that with low expectations. I feel like coming into the U.S. Open this year, my game's in much better shape than it was last year. I came off the back of three missed cuts in a row and I wasn't playing very well. And this year I feel like my game's actually in good shape. So I feel coming in this year I've got a way better chance than I did last year.
But, yeah, it's nice to come in and, as you said, not come in under the radar, but be able to do your own thing and be able to get on with your business and prepare the way you want to for this tournament.
Q. Have you made any changes with your equipment because of this golf course and setup and if so what and why?
RORY McILROY: Well, yeah, I was going to go with a 2-iron but I'm not too sure. I haven't played the course since it's got this wet, so I'm going to go out and play this afternoon and I'll make a decision between 2-iron and 5-wood. I would imagine I'll keep the 2-iron in the bag.
And apart from that, no, everything else is the same.
Q. How can you best explain your game plan as far as your tee shots in terms of being aggressive with this golf course?
RORY McILROY: I think that you got to be. I guess you can be aggressive on the holes that you feel comfortable on. And sometimes you've got to be a little more conservative on the holes that the tee shot might not quite fit your eye or whatever it is.
But I imagine I'll hit seven drivers out here. So I'll still play quite aggressively off the tee. But it's funny, there's seven drivers and then there's a lot of irons. So it's sort of – there's not really many where you're hitting a 3-wood or 5-wood, it's sort of like driver or iron and that's sort of weighing how most guys will approach it this week.
Q. When it comes to power threesomes, how do you, Tiger and Adam compare to LeBron, Dwyane and Chris Bosh?
RORY McILROY: Well, in Game One it was a part twosome because Bosh wasn't doing much.
I'm not sure. I guess those guys have got the luxury of playing off one another. They can sort of help each other out, where we're out here doing our own thing. We're trying to beat one another. So it's a little bit different. But it's nice again to pair the top three ranked players in the world. It’s a cool idea and I'm just happy to be part of it.
Q. And where were you in the summer of 2008 when Tiger won at Torrey Pines and just that week?
RORY McILROY: I missed qualifying at Walton Heath and I guess I would have been getting ready for the BMW tournament in Munich. And then would have been going on a run there in the European Tour where I would have played Munich, France, Scotland, yeah. So a little bit different.
But I remember watching the Sunday because Lee was in contention and I was following that. Then obviously Tiger holed the putt on the final green and beat Rocco in the playoff.
Q. There has not been a U.S. Open repeat champion now in 24 years. There's been one at the PGA, the British, the Masters … what is it about this event that sort of hampers repeat champions? Is it different venues, is it the course setup, is it maybe something else?
RORY McILROY: I think it's different venues and different course setups every year. Because you look at somewhere like last year, Olympic, it's firm, it's fast, it's very tricky. You come to somewhere like this year, okay, it could have played like that, but it's not going to. It's going to be wet and it's going to be, so it's a little, as I say, we played Bethpage in 2009 and it was wet and soggy. We go to Pebble in 2010 – it's running and firm and bouncy. 2011 in Congressional and it's soft again. So it seems like every other year you get a firm one and a soft one and a firm one and a soft one. I think that's probably been the reason why.
Q. With championships like this being so physically and mentally demanding, what do you do off the course in order to relax and get your mind off of golf just a little bit?
RORY McILROY: I'm actually, I was half thinking of going to the steps in the city, the Rocky Steps. Wherever they are and going to run up those. Just because we are where we are. But I guess just get away from it. These can be long weeks. Especially, as I said, the ground's going to be heavy, it's going to be a tough walk out there. So conserve as much energy as you can in between rounds. Go for dinner. It's good, NBA finals are on. So I'll be following that closely with everyone else. Yeah, I guess just get your mind off golf for a few hours if you can and get ready for the next day.
Q. Following up on the 2008 Open, what do you remember from Rocco Mediate's play and in the playoff were you pulling for him because he was such an underdog and he seems to be such a popular guy?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I remember that U.S. Open every shot that Rocco played. You didn't need any of the commentators in the booth because you knew what was going on with that shot because he would comment on it.
But, yeah, it was great. He's fun to watch. He sort of is happy go lucky attitude. And yeah, I think there was a lot of people pulling for Tiger, he was playing on a broken leg pretty much, so I was definitely pulling for Tiger. It was probably one of the best performances golf has ever seen, if not sport in general.
Q. Two questions. Firstly, this course was designed with British course architecture and Scottish bunkering in mind. Does that give the British contingent any sort of advantage this week?
RORY McILROY: I don't think so, just because it's not going play like that at all. It's going to be soft and you're going to have to play everything through the air. So it's not, I don't think it's going to play into the hands of the guys from Europe or Great Britain or Ireland. But, I know the story about the wicker baskets and about the – was it Wilson who designed the course? Going over to Scotland and seeing everything. But I just can't see it playing into anyone's hands like that just because of the conditions.
Q. Secondly, how difficult logistically is it arriving at the West Course, getting your practice done and then getting buzzed over to the East Course?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, it is. It's a little different. But it's something that we're used to. We do a few times a year where logistically courses just can't have everything at one area and you're going to have to go from here to there. And it is okay. It's fine. It's not a bad thing because you've got your locker room and the dining area and the practice facilities all in one place. So that's good. And you just have to get a five or 10 minute shuttle ride to the first tee and then you're there. But one thing today, I drove in and I could hardly get in the car park because it was so wet the wheels were spinning and the car was going sideways, trying to get parked.
Q. Given all the attention on the Hogan plaque on the 18th fairway, can you tell us your history with a 1-iron?
RORY McILROY: There is no history.
Q. Do you know what a 1-iron is?
RORY McILROY: I know what a 1-iron is.
Q. Have you ever hit one?
RORY McILROY: I probably can't hit one.
Q. Have you ever tried?
RORY McILROY: I think my dad might have had a 1-iron but it was a Ping Zing? Something like that? Was it? So if he can hit one, I should be able to.
BETH MAJOR: Thanks so much for joining us. Always a pleasure to have you with us and we wish you well this week.
RORY McILROY: Thank you.