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July 19, 2017
MIKE WOODCOCK: I'd very much like to welcome the 2014 Champion Golfer of the Year, Rory McIlroy, to the interview room.
Rory, you must be looking forward to getting to The Open this week and competing here at Royal Birkdale.
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I am. It's been a while since I have been back here. I played the British Amateur Championship back in 2005. Yeah, it's been a while. But what a fantastic golf course. I'd definitely rate it among the top three in The Open rotation, if not the best course that we play out of the rotation. It tests all aspects of your game. You have to drive it well. You have to be smart. Everything sort of challenges every aspect of your game.
So, yeah, it's good to be back. I've done some good work over the past few days, and just looking forward to getting out there tomorrow afternoon and getting going.
Q. What's it been like for you with just the odd season it's been, in trying to build any sort of rhythm or momentum and get something going? And how do you look at that from this point heading forward?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, look, it's been a very stop/start year. It hasn't been the year that I had planned, going back to January and feeling like I was in a good place in my game.
But these things sort of crop up out of nowhere and they challenge us. It is what it is. I'm sticking to what I know, which is working hard on my game and trying to -- feeling like I'm doing the right things, and just trying to stay as patient as possible, and enjoy the process of trying to improve and trying to get better and trying to prepare for tournaments and hit the shots that I'm going to need for that week. It hasn't quite happened for me over the past couple of weeks. But as I keep saying, it doesn't feel that far away.
And because I haven't played that much, the only thing I can really do is take some sort of confidence from what I'm seeing in practise, and sometimes that doesn't quite translate to what happens on the course. And that's sort of been the case for the last few months. But obviously it's been hard to get any sort of momentum with an injury and not being able to practise as much as you'd like.
But I'm in good spirits. I feel like it's all coming together. I'm just waiting for that round or that moment or that week where it sort of clicks and I'll be off and running. I've had little periods like this before in my career, and I've been able to bounce back from them. I'd say I was in worse positions than this. I feel like my game -- the pieces are all there, it's just about trying to fit them together.
Q. I think 20 to 1 to win this with the bookies, is that fair? And to what extent is it a motivation, not just for that, but to get back to people's prominence and favouritism in major championships?
RORY McILROY: Good time to back me, I think. 20 to 1? Yeah, I mean, look, if I was a betting company and I saw my form over the past few weeks, you would say, yeah, that's probably a fair enough price. But, again, all it takes is one week for those odds to go back to, I don't know, 7 to 1, 8 to 1 at Quail Hollow.
So as I say, good week to back me.
Q. You actually played pretty well when you came back the first time, back in March from the initial injury. Do you know, did you make it worse, do you think, during that time leading up to The PLAYERS? Is it still bothering you now in any way?
RORY McILROY: It's not -- how can I put it -- it's like, I guess I'm conscious of it but it's not bad. It's something that I just have to manage, like anything. Like at the start of my career I had to manage my lower back, because it was always sort of at me. And I figured out a way to make that better. And I have no problem with that now.
Coming back from the ankle injury, I needed to manage that for a good few months. And it's the same thing here. It's not as if you have an injury and it suddenly goes away and you're not going to have problems with it again. There's a little bit of irritation in there every once in a while, and I just have to know how much volume I can put through, through it until I reach a point that I'm okay, that's enough.
So it's just one of those things. It was unfortunate, and it's hard, as well. I spoke to Charles Howell about this a couple of days ago, because he is going through a similar thing; he had a hairline fracture in a rib rip, too. And it's just hard because it comes from doing what you need to do, which is hitting balls in practise. So it it's sort of a Catch-22, you don't want to hit too many balls and aggravate it too much again, but at the same time if you want to compete and you want to try to win some of these biggest tournaments in the world, you have to put in the time and put in the practise and that's where it can be a little bit difficult to try to find the right balance.
I'm managing it and I'm managing it well, and making sure that it's warmed up before I go play. I'm definitely at a point now where I kind of feel like I can practise. I've hit a lot of balls over the last few days and put in a good bit of work. At the end of the difficult it sometimes feels a little stiff, but when I wake up the next morning it's fine.
So, it's just about managing the load that I put through it for the next few months. And I think when I get an extended period of time off at the end of the year, I'll look to put the clubs away for a few weeks and do a bit of rehab, and make sure that it's fully ready to go when I start next season.
Q. Just curious what you remember, what stands out, from your first Open experience ten years ago, looking back on it, and sort of transitioning to now how you see yourself in the second phase of your career?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, even last week at the Scottish Open we played up at Dundonald, but across the lines was Western Gailes, and the week before in '07 I played for Ireland in the European team championships at Western Gailes and we won that, and then went I guess across to Carnoustie and played there. So some sort of good memories already, with seeing Western Gailes last week.
Yeah, I was coming into The Open, I just -- I won the European Amateur the year before to qualify for it, and had all these practise rounds lined up. I played a few holes with Faldo, played a few holes with Clarkey, and, yeah, I was -- like it was my first Open, my first major, and I was just really enjoying it and trying to take it all in my stride, and trying to learn as much as possible and play with some of these guys that have sort of got the experience and been there and done that.
Yeah, it was a great week. I was really enthusiastic. I went out and played a great first round. And then I struggled a little bit in the second round. I remember a lot about that week. I loved the golf course at Carnoustie. Yeah, it just -- just a lot of enthusiasm. You're 18 years old, it's all new. It's great.
Q. Has that changed now? Different?
RORY McILROY: Geez, I mean, of course. I think everything sort of has its appeal as the first time, whether it's driving down Magnolia Lane for the first time or playing in your first Open Championship or seeing your name for the first time up on that big yellow board on the grandstands here. So that, over time, wears off a little bit. And I'd say that would be the same for anyone. You get so excited for these tournaments, they're the biggest and best tournaments in the world. And ultimately my career is going to be defined by how I do in these tournaments.
You're always excited. You're excited, you're anxious, there's so many feelings that are going on. But, yeah, no, it's down to business. Back then in '07 I didn't think I had a chance to win the tournament. I was just trying to soak it all in and try to learn as much as I can. Where nowadays I come to The Open Championship with the goal of taking away the Claret Jug.
Q. You're in a different phase of your life now as a married man. Are you as ambitious and as hungry as ever, and do you feel as though you want to win this week or you need to win?
RORY McILROY: I want to win this week. I don't need to win. A second Open Championship isn't going to change my life. But I want to win. But, yeah, I'm still as ambitious now as I was starting off my career, if not more so now because I know what I've achieved and I know what I can achieve. So it only makes you want to do that even more. Because if you were to ask me in Carnoustie ten years ago, okay, you're going to be sitting in your press conference in ten years' time at Birkdale, what would you like to have achieved? If someone told me, you're going to be a four-time major winner and you won The Open, and you're one leg away from the career Grand Slam, you've played on three winning Ryder Cup teams, you've won the Order of Merit three times in Europe, you've won the FedExCup in the States I'd be, like, yeah, I'll take that! That's pretty good.
But having that success, you only want to do that more. And you want to emulate that and you want to do it again and again and again. So I definitely haven't lost the hunger that I've always had.
Q. We've seen you go through a few different putter models in recent weeks. Are you happy with the model you're going in with this week? And are there any other equipment changes that you've made, particularly for this course?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I'm happy with what I have in the bag. Yeah, I went through a few putters a couple of weeks ago I think in Connecticut, and feel that I've landed on one that I like and I'm comfortable with. And at the end of the day the putter is only two percent of what it is; 98 percent is the guy that's holding it.
So, yeah, I've done a good bit of work on it. I feel like there's a little more flow to my putting than there might have been a few weeks ago, just by trying to separate my technical thoughts on the golf course to doing my drills off it. But when I get on the course just really getting into trying to hole putts and not thinking too technically about it, and really focusing in on the target and being a little bit more reactive. So I've worked a bit on that, which has been pretty good. I saw some good signs with how I putted last week in Scotland.
And then I've put a 1-iron in the bag, which I'll hit a lot this week. It's 16 degrees with a graphite shaft. With calm conditions, it probably runs out to 280, 290. It's a great club to have this week. I feel like this is a golf course where you can't really take it on too much. You can't cut it across corners. You can't take on some of the angles or bunkers that are here. This golf course dictates to you how play it. It's so well bunkered, it's so well designed. You're going to see guys hitting it to the same spot and then hitting it from there to the green. It's one of those courses that you know you go out here this week and shoot four 68's or 69, you're going to have a really good chance to win.
You don't have to take on too much on this golf course, especially the first 14 holes, where there isn't a par 5. You've got the 5th hole, which is a very gentle par-4. Apart from that, there are no obvious birdie holes. You have to play really good golf. It gives you a little bit of a chance on the way in. That 1-iron will be hit a lot. I'm trying to put myself in position off the tee. And if you're in the fairway most of the time, you can attack some of these flags.
Q. We've had seven first-time major winners since Jason Day in 2015. Is this the week that that stops? And if so, why?
RORY McILROY: I certainly hope so. You never know. Golf is in a place right now where you have so many players playing really well. And a lot of the guys that are playing really well haven't won a major like, the likes of Jon Rahm or Justin Thomas or whoever it may be. But I think Birkdale is -- I think because we're going back to a place where we've been before, it's not a course that's new to anyone, I think that may play -- it might make a little bit of a difference. I really couldn't tell you. It could be, it couldn't be.
I certainly hope it's not. I hope it's me at the end of the week that's standing on the 18th green and getting the Claret Jug. But sort of where golf is at the moment. No one is really standing out and sort of taking it by the scruff of the neck. But it's so hard these days to separate yourself. And I've said that a lot the last sort of couple of years because of the technology in the golf clubs and golf equipment. But also the technology with coaching, with TrackMan, with the knowledge out there, the coaches, the stats guys, you know way more about your golf game than you did 20 or 30 years, and everyone has access to that now. And that's why the margins are so fine, and that's why you're finding all these guys so closely grouped together because it's so hard to find that little percent or two percent that separates you from the rest of the pack.
Q. You work so hard on your technical, physical game, and you work so hard in the gym. Compared to earlier in your career how much more do you do on the mental game now, just sort of what you were saying about Conor McGregor the other day, and the separation and quality between players these days. Is that something you're looking closely at and how are you preparing mentally?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I think mentally -- I think golf is more mental than physical at the end of the day. If you believe in what you're doing and you believe in yourself and you're positive, you have that positivity. Yeah, as I said, you believe in what you're doing, I think that's half the battle, it really is.
So, yeah, I think about it a lot. Everyone is different. And some techniques work for some guys and some techniques work for other guys. For me, I really have to focus on -- if I truly believe in what I'm doing in my practise, that is what translates into good golf for me out on the golf course.
But the mental side is so important in golf. The best player of the last maybe ever -- well, the two best players ever, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, they were both so strong mentally, so that tells you what, maybe as I said, maybe the separation factor is the mental side of the game, and being maybe a little bit better in that aspect than the rest of the guys. But I think it's really about knowing yourself and knowing what works for you and what thoughts work and what techniques work. And sometimes maybe what worked two years ago doesn't work for you now and you need something else. And you're always trying to evolve and trying to figure out new ways to bring the best out of yourself.
Q. Have you found something for this week and where is the belief right now?
RORY McILROY: I think so. My game is all there. Again, it's just about staying as positive as I possibly can. I don't know if I'll find something this week, I'll be able to tell you better when I'm in the tournament and how I'm feeling out there. But I'm as positive as I can be, I guess, going into tomorrow. And we'll see how that goes.
Q. Do you remember any specific advice before that first Open or is there any advice you would give a rookie this week after ten years of playing?
RORY McILROY: I was never one to -- I guess I was never one to seek out advice. I always wanted to try to figure things out on my own because I felt that's the best way to take ownership of what you're doing. But it's just being -- it's more of an observational thing and being observant of those guys and what they do, how they go about the practise rounds and through their routines and how they talk with their caddie and what they're talking about and just sort of listening to that, not really seeking out advice in any way, but just seeing how they do it and if you can pick something up from that.
So I can't remember any specifics. But I'd say to a rookie who's playing this week, whether it's an amateur who's qualified or someone that's playing in their first Open, just enjoy the experience. It's the biggest and best golf tournament in the world I feel. And there's no better feeling than being announced on the first tee in an Open Championship. If you play well, you're walking down the 18th and the grandstands are full, and you get a reception going on on the 18th green and it's pretty cool when that happens for the first time. So just enjoy it. Relish it. Take in as much as you can, and that will serve you the next time that you play.
Q. You sort of touched on this, but when you won The Open, and that was -- that would have been one of four majors in four years, there was an expectation that you would become a dominant force, the dominant force in golf. Did you think that those expectations were unrealistic, for something like Tiger's dominance to be repeated, which some people expected you to do?
RORY McILROY: Well, I think when you ride on the crest of a wave, it's easy to get caught up with those expectations and you start believing them. And of course, like I have been able to play golf in stretches that if I continued that type of golf for six, seven, eight years, yes, I would be able to win a lot more. But, again, as I was saying, I think golf is -- it's so fluid and so you're always trying to evolve. You're always trying to figure out what the best way is to get the best out of yourself. And as I said, the thoughts that I might have had when I won at Hoylake mightn't work for me now. It's all about trying to get the best out of yourself and trying to think about what thoughts you need going into the week. And that's always been -- if you had the same thoughts and the same feelings each week and that's what worked for you every single week, the game would be easier than it is. But if you're standing up here speaking to you guys yesterday or today, they'll probably tell you the same thing, golf is such a -- it's almost like life, there's ups and downs, and it's never sort of that linear sort of direction. It's so hard to do that. I think you need to know yourself very well, and you need to figure out what really works for you.
But, look, when I won those three tournaments in '14 and I was where I was in the game, yeah, of course, I thought, okay, I really can keep this going and I can become -- I was going into the Masters the next year thinking I can win the Grand Slam, I can do this, I can do that, and some things just come along that you don't expect, whether it be an injury, whether it be -- well, that's really been a couple of injuries the last couple of years, and that sort of stops me in my tracks. But I've still got plenty of time to I guess rekindle those feelings and that sort of play. And I really don't feel I'm that far away from it right now, but even if the results don't suggest it.
So, yeah, I wish I was here being the No. 1 player in the world and won a couple more majors and whatever but I haven't. And I'm in a place where I'm trying to figure out how I get back to that position where I was this time two and a half, three years ago. But I'm working on it. I'm trying to get back there and I'm doing everything I can. And hopefully the start of that crest of a wave happens this week.
Q. Going back to mentals, Padraig won from the wrong side of the draw last time we were here. You've been on both sides over the years. When you're on the bad side of the draw, have you ever seen or been around with anyone that's given up on themselves, and is that difficult to try to tell yourself to stick with it?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, it's hard. Look, I've been on the wrong side and I've been on the right side. I was on the wrong side of it at St. Georges in '11 and wasn't very happy about it. Made some comments that I probably shouldn't have made. So, yeah, have I been around someone that's done that? Yeah, I have (laughter).
But then you get -- like I think with The Open Championship you're playing in them enough that you're going to get your good draws and bad draws. It's a part of it that you have to accept that the weather is always going to play a part in The Open Championship or the way the tee times are. You accept it and you have no other choice. And I've learned to accept it over the years.
When you feel like you're playing well and you get the wrong side of the draw and you feel like the best you can finish is 10th, it's a bitter pill to swallow sometimes but you have to realise in a 25- or 30-year career you're going to get some years that you're on the good side of the draw, and you have to make the best of those. And thankfully I did at Hoylake in 2014. But look, Padraig won the thing from the bad side of the draw. So it can be done. You just have to stick in there and make the most of whatever the weather presents you and go with that.
Q. And the other thing, you said this at Hoylake and other places on the way when you're playing great you don't remember what it's like, when you're playing poorly, and vice versa, when it's bad you don't remember what it's like when it's good. What are your memories of golf right now?
RORY McILROY: Tom Weiskopf is the one that said that first. He said, "When I'm playing well, I can never imagine how I ever played so badly. And when I play badly, I can never imagine how I played so great."
And I think that's how fine the line is in golf, between playing great and playing poorly. And right now it's not as if I'm struggling with -- I feel like I can hit the ball in the fairway, and from there I can hit the ball on the green. And if I get my eye in, I can put the ball in the hole from there. So it's not bad. It's not as if I can't see myself shooting a good score. It's all there. It's just a matter of putting it all together.
My memories of golf are pretty good right now. I feel like, as I said, I've done some pretty good things in this game, and I don't feel like I'm that far away from doing them again.
MIKE WOODCOCK: Rory, thank you for your time today. Best of luck this week.
RORY McILROY: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports