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June 13, 2018
Southampton, New York
THE MODERATOR: Good morning. Welcome to Day 3 at the U.S. Open Championship 2018 at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.
We are very pleased to welcome this morning 2011 U.S. Open Champion Rory McIlroy, who claimed the title that year at Congressional Country Club in runaway and record fashion.
You're playing in your ninth U.S. Open and your first at Shinnecock Hills.
Rory, can you give us some overall impressions of Shinnecock and your preparations coming into the week?
RORY McILROY: Yeah. I first played here back in 2014, and it's definitely been a U.S. Open I've been looking forward to.
I love the golf course, especially with how the conditions have been, especially yesterday with a bit of wind and the dryness.
It sort of reminds me of some of the courses from back home a little bit, the way the golf course has been playing.
Yeah, except there's been great championships here -- '86, '95, '04. Great winners. And, yeah, I've been looking forward to it. I spent quite a bit of time here. I came straight after Memorial. I played the day after and played a few of the courses in the area. I think it's definitely one of the best areas in the world in terms of golf courses. So I had a bit of fun doing that.
And I've had a few good looks at the golf course over the past few days. Just looking forward to getting started tomorrow. I'm happy I've got an early tee time. It feels like I've been here for quite a while, so anxious to get started tomorrow. You know what, it should be a great week.
THE MODERATOR: And you've played really nicely this year. You had a win at the Arnold Palmer Open Invitational, finished fifth at the Masters. Can you talk about how you're feeling about this week and how you feel about your game?
RORY McILROY: My game feels good. I've played myself into a few final groups. The first Major of the year, I played well. I sort of struggled a little bit on Sunday. But I've got a win this year, which is great. I've gotten myself into contention quite a few times.
So would love to do that again this week. It feels like it's been a while since I've been in the mix at this Championship. With how my game feels, hopefully I can do the right things over the first few days and put myself in a position to win another one.
THE MODERATOR: Great. Thanks very much. We'll open it to questions.
Q. Rory, you said after the third round at Chambers Bay that you were glad you'd won one of these, meaning one of the U.S. Opens. Can you just expand on what you meant by that? Was that related just to Chambers Bay or the course setups in general?
RORY McILROY: Very proud to be a U.S. Open Champion.
Q. Did it have to do with the different course setup or the pressure?
RORY McILROY: No.
Q. Rory, can you kind of talk about some of the other courses you've played this week and any highlights that stand out?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, so played National a couple of times. Played Friar's Head. Went in closer to the city and played Garden City. Yeah, it's been good. I've never played National or Friar's Head before. I was looking forward to playing Friar's Head. National as well, obviously, with the history and the architecture, but I'm a big fan of what Coore and Crenshaw have tried to do with their golf courses, and Friar's Head is one of the best I've played. Not just for the design, but just for the setting and the scenery.
I think 14 and 15 are two of the prettiest golf holes I've ever seen. It sort of reminds you of a Cypress Point.
So it's been really good. It's just been fun. I think I played from sort of Wentworth to Memorial to, last week, I played 18 out of 19 days. So I took a day off on Saturday just to sort of try to recharge the batteries. But it's been a lot of fun. It's not a bad place to spend a couple of weeks in the summer.
Q. Rory, would you talk about how this golf course fits your eye, and specifically off the tee, and what your strategy off the tee would look like.
RORY McILROY: Yeah, it really depends on the wind direction here. I think it's been great for a lot of the guys that we've been able to see this golf course in different winds. Yesterday was actually the first time that I've been able to see it in a prevailing southwest wind.
My club selections off the tees slightly changed with that. I think with the southwest wind, you're probably not going to hit as many drivers as you think you would. But then when it changes, I think the first couple of days, it's sort of out of the west and northwest, you sort of get driver in your hand a little bit more.
You know, it's a U.S. Open. It's primarily a second shot golf course. Obviously, it's generous off the tees for the most part, but if you miss the fairways, you're going to get punished heavily. So it's just about making sure you put your ball in the right place off the tee, and then really just putting your ball in the right place on the greens.
These greens are quite large, but they play a lot smaller than they actually are just because of run-offs and the way they're designed.
But I think I'll adopt quite a conservative strategy off the tee. As I said, the greens are -- you're hitting into big targets. So even if you're leaving yourself back and maybe hitting a couple of extra clubs into these greens, it's not such a bad thing. I'd rather be doing that than hacking my way out of the rough. So that's sort of my strategy this week.
Q. Rory, there doesn't seem to be a consensus on what the proper width of a U.S. Open fairway should be. Most of the time, it depends on the age of the person you're talking to. What is your thought on whether these are the right size, too wide? And what do you envision when you come to a U.S. Open, what it should be?
RORY McILROY: You know, I think it all depends on the design of the hole. You look out here, you've got fairways like, let's say, 16, for example, the par 5 that are very wide, but guys are hitting driver there. It is a par 5.
But you've got fairways like 13, where you're hitting an iron off the tee that it's still wide enough, but it's a different visual, and it's a little tighter with an iron in your hand.
Honestly, I think they've got it right. There might be a few holes where guys are playing conservative -- like the 1st hole, for example, I'll hit a 3 or 4 iron off the tee, and you're hitting into a 50- or 60-yard wide fairway. Yes, it is very generous, but at least it gives guys an option to take it over that bunker on the right and get it closer to the green with driver.
I like it. It presents guys with options off the tee. You have to make a decision basically on every tee box what you're going to do.
But, yeah, I'm obviously not that old, but I'm used to, when I watched U.S. Opens on TV and saw these long, narrow corridors of narrow fairways and thick rough, that's what I was used to at a U.S. Open.
But now we're going to some different venues, and whether it's Pinehurst in '14 or Chambers Bay '15, it started to become a little bit wider and not so much of a driving test, but more of a test into the greens and short game and putting. That's sort of the way it's been.
But I think, if you look at the venues that are coming up, they're very traditional venues, venues like Oakmont, Winged Foot, Pebble Beach. Maybe you'll see more of what we perceive as a traditional U.S. Open setup.
Q. When you think of the U.S. Open, do you think you're supposed to be tested or punished?
RORY McILROY: Tested, but punished if you hit a bad shot.
Q. Rory, 14 years ago, the par 3 7th was a source of controversy, as they kind of lost the green. How playable has the 7th been in your experience in practice? And on top of that, how would you describe the actual target areas on the greens with all the opportunities for run-offs into those collection areas now?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, so 7 is -- I mean, it's a tough par 3. It's 190 yards, and you've got basically a seven-yard area to hit it into. So you have to cover the false front, which is seven, and you really can't pitch it more than 15. So eight yards. Really, that's your margin for error right there.
But I think the thing is as well, left there isn't a bad miss. You're going up the green, and a lot of balls that are trickling off the green on the left aren't actually going into the bunkers.
So if you hit your distances and if you're a little left, it might stay up for you, and you've got an easy chip up the hill. So it's been very playable so far, even yesterday with the wind and it drying up. Obviously, there's going to be a bit of rain today. But I think overall, the golf course has been very playable and very fair.
Q. Rory, you mentioned at Memorial that you're not necessarily a fan of the marquee groups. Is that just because the attendance is ratcheted up right from the start, or is it playing against a rival?
RORY McILROY: No, I just -- you know, just looking purely from a results point of view and how some of the players have played in those marquee groups, it hasn't maybe been what the Tour has wanted or what those guys have wanted in terms of performance and results.
I mean, look, again, I get what they're doing, and the U.S. Open has always done that. I think they were the first tournament to put the first three players in the world together. I think it was at Torrey Pines in '08. It was Tiger, Phil, and Adam maybe, or something like that. But at a Major championship, you don't need -- I don't think the anticipation level can get any higher anyway.
So you can put whoever you want together, and any grouping is going to be exciting. But, yeah, I just -- I don't know if it's just a little bit contrived for my liking.
Obviously, you're not going to make a lot of pairings randomly. There's going to be some groups that you're going to pair the bigger names together. But as I said, when I said that, I think the primary objective is trying to get those guys in contention on a Sunday, and whatever the best way is to do that.
Q. Rory, Tiger was in yesterday, and he said that one of the reasons he was staying on the dinghy is because the traffic is a real threat. Somebody could miss their tee time. Obviously, you had a bit of drama some years ago, but did that influence your choice of where you're staying this week? And have you heard any horror stories about the traffic?
RORY McILROY: I am three minutes door to door. I have no problem. I don't know if we were very smart or very lucky, one of the two. So we're fine.
But, yeah, I think anyone staying west of the golf course is going to get caught in that traffic, whether it's on the LIE or Montauk Highway, whatever it is. So, yeah, it's tough. It's a very thin piece of land, and people are trying to get out from the city. So we're pretty fortunate.
But I played with Matt Fitzpatrick yesterday, and he said it took him an hour and a half to get to the golf course. So I think it's just one of those things you're going to have to set off early and try to beat the traffic. It's the way it is. Just, unfortunately, one of the things about this area is it's a small piece of land and can only take so many people.
Q. Rory, just touching on your group again, you got three guys there that are one leg away from completing the career grand slam.
When it gets to that, how do you stop it from becoming a thing, something you maybe want too much and think too much about when the time comes?
RORY McILROY: You know what, I think you just have to treat the tournament for what it is. It's a golf tournament, and Phil's had chances. This is a golf course he obviously likes. He plays well in the New York area. He should have nothing but good, positive vibes going into this week. He won for the first time in a few years earlier this year so his game's in good shape.
I think, if you just focus on the positives, that it's another opportunity to do something very special in this game. You go out with that mindset, and you try to stay as positive as possible.
Look, Phil's had six runner-ups at this event. He's played wonderfully. It's just someone's played a little better at a certain week or maybe he made a mistake at the wrong time. It's not as if he's had a poor U.S. Open record. His U.S. Open record is incredible. Like I said, this is another opportunity for him, as it will be for Jordan at the PGA, as it will be for me again next year April again.
I think you've got to go out and play the best you can and not think about what it means, just think about trying to win a golf tournament, which Phil has 50-odd times in his career.
Q. Do you see it as a race in any way between the three of you? Can that spur you on?
RORY McILROY: Not particularly. Look, if I wasn't playing and just purely as a fan of golf, I'd love to see Phil win this week because it's great for the game. It's a huge story in the game of golf. And as someone involved in the game, I think it would be really cool for that to happen.
But seeing as I'm playing in the tournament, I'd rather beat him and not have that happen. But if it isn't me that wins this week, it would be a great story if Phil was to win.
Q. Rory, I'm curious, when was the last time that you played -- I think you said 18 out of 19 days. When was the last time that you did that with golf that was ancillary to tournament golf, and what was the net effect? Did you play better when you got back in a tournament setting?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I'm not sure. I mean, I play quite a lot of golf in the wintertime down in Florida in between tournaments, but usually that's -- I might play one day and practice the next and do it like that.
But I've played quite a bit this year. I've had quite a busy schedule. It was just more fun. I wanted to see the golf courses. I have quite a few friends that live around this area, and I just wanted to go out and play with them.
I mean, the net, I don't think there's been any -- I'm hitting the ball well. I'm playing well. Especially in the wind and the conditions that are around here, you sort of get used to the different ball flights. And especially in some of the golf courses I've played, you're seeing different shots, and you're having to use a bit of imagination around the greens. So it's been quite good in that way.
Saturday was nice. I took the day off from playing, but I still came here and walked the golf course with a wedge and a putter just to try to get a feel for what I want to do around here. But it's been a great week. It's been fun. It's been a lot of fun.
Q. Rory, some of those other courses you played, they're obviously well regarded. Did they live up to expectations? And was it more about fun, or do they help you prepare?
RORY McILROY: Honestly, it was just more about fun. And Friar's Head was one that I've wanted to play for a long time, and that really lived up to expectation. National did too, but for different reasons.
National, you could never host a golf tournament on there in this day and age just because, you know, they're landlocked, and there's not much room to go in terms of lengthening the golf course. You could probably leave the woods out of your bag at National and just go and play with an iron with the way the fairways run there and stuff.
But it's cool to see the architecture that's been brought over from Scotland, like you've got basically a road hole bunker, a principal's nose, or a downhill. You've got all the stuff you had where this game started, which is really cool. So it was nice to see that.
Q. Obviously, there are guys going out for their first Major still. I was just wondering if you would share a first impression of Rickie Fowler. Would you be surprised that his career would end without one? Might he get one at some point? And just kind of what guys think of him as a competitor.
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I'd be very surprised if Rickie didn't have multiple Majors by the end of his career. He's a great player. Again, he's played great in Majors. Like he could have won a couple in '14, and I was the one that got the better of him there.
But he's put himself in positions. He made a great run at Augusta earlier this year. Again, it's just there's so much more to winning a golf tournament than just playing well. Your timing has to be right. Things have to happen at the right time. You have to get momentum at the right time, a lucky break here and there. The more times Rickie puts himself in a position, the better his chances are of winning one.
But I think everyone in this room would be really surprised if he wasn't to go on and win at least more than one major in his career. And I think his game is highly regarded by all his peers. He's a wonderful player, a lot of imagination, has all the shots, which is something you need around here.
Q. Rory, can you talk a little bit more about the wind factor here, the changing wind, and do you think the guys who grew up playing in that kind of wind like yourself have a bit of an advantage? How much does that experience weigh in to playing well here?
RORY McILROY: You know what, a little bit. I think the only thing here compared to maybe courses back home is it's quite difficult to run the ball onto the green here because of how steep some of the fronts of the greens are. So you're having to carry it onto the green and stop it pretty quickly. So it's a little different that way.
You know what, I feel -- you know, most weeks that we play on Tour, there's a little bit of wind at least one day so most of the guys out here are used to playing in conditions like that. Maybe some of the guys coming from Memphis last week where they played and it was quite calm maybe just have to readjust and get used to playing in a bit of wind again. But most of the guys are so experienced and have played in wind.
Maybe guys that have grown up in windy conditions might have a tiny bit of an advantage, but everyone out here knows what to do and knows how to handle whatever comes at them in terms of conditions.
But it's going to be a great test. I think the golf course is great. A little bit of wind will make it interesting. Should be in for a great tournament.
Q. What do you think about the decision to go to a two-hole playoff to decide the championship on Sunday?
RORY McILROY: I think, you know, there's pros and cons. For me, if I was to get myself into a playoff, I feel like I'd have a better chance of beating a person over 18 holes than over 2 holes. But at the same time, I very much understand the decision to try and finish this tournament on a Sunday.
But I watched the playoff at Shoal Creek with the women a couple of weeks ago, and it's still, even if you -- at least it's not sudden death. I think to have the two holes is a very good thing because it still gives you a chance if you go 1 or 2 down after the first hole. For the most part, I'd say it's 80 percent positive, 20 percent negative.
The only thing is most guys would feel like they'd be able to be more likely to beat someone over 18 holes than over 2. But it's the same thing with, when we go and play the world match play or whatever it is, when the world match play was at Wentworth all those years ago, playing 36-hole matches, sometimes I wished that, when we go and play the match play in Austin, it was over 36 holes, because I'd say the best player is going to win more times than not.
But if I get myself into a playoff and it's two holes and I end up coming out on top, I'll be all for it.
Q. Rory, you have your plan, obviously, for getting to the golf course down pat, all well organized. Just wondering about getting around it. Is there something about it that puts a smile on your face and makes you think, yeah, you know what? This really suits me here. And is there any other aspect of this golf course that makes you sort of wake up and think I'm going to have to be careful with this or that? What's the biggest challenge going to be for you?
RORY McILROY: I think the biggest challenge is being disciplined. Just really sticking to your game plan, being disciplined.
As I said, even if you think you can get it down there and get yourself a 9 iron in your hand, it's not a bad thing to be back a little bit, put it in the fat part of the fairway, have a 7 or a 6 iron into the green, and just play that way, play conservatively, put it in the right spots, and be patient.
That's what this tournament is all about, and that's the mindset that I'm going to approach it with this week.
You know, it's funny. Without playing in the southwest wind, up until yesterday, I thought I was going to hit maybe seven or eight drivers out there, and after playing in the prevailing wind, it's more like three or four. It's a long golf course on the card, but it doesn't play as long as what it suggests.
So there's a lot of fairways that you get it to 260 or 270, and it runs down the hill to 300, 310, which is where you'd be pitching a driver anyway, and it would just stop dead. So it doesn't play quite as long as the scorecard suggests.
Q. What are your strongest memories of the U.S. Open before you started playing them?
RORY McILROY: I remember quite a few. The '99 at Pinehurst with Payne Stewart. I remember that. I think just, you know, the Mickelsons were having a baby. Payne was, you know, it was raining, and Payne cut the sleeves off his thing, and it was a real battle. He held that putt on the 18th green to win.
I think it was the first real -- it was the first U.S. Open I paid attention to, and I stayed up late at night and watched it.
Obviously, Tiger, 2000, Pebble. Bethpage. I loved the -- I've been able to play one of the U.S. Opens at Bethpage, and after watching that in '02, it was my first U.S. Open as well, but I was excited to play that.
I feel like that Bethpage Black was a real sort of -- I think it was the first time it ever went to a public golf course. There's a lot of cool stuff about that.
There's been a lot of great U.S. Opens, a lot of good memories watching it down the years. Hopefully, there's a kid out there somewhere that's watching it these days and wants to play in these championships as well, emulate us.
Q. Rory, most professionals don't like to play fun golf. You talk to them, they don't know anything about Friar's Head or National or any place else.
Can you talk about your what impetus is, meaning how do you approach a fun golf round versus a professional round? And the fun golf you played this week, does that put you in a different mindset for this week?
RORY McILROY: It does. Alex, I would say for maybe five or six years, I never played fun golf. It was all to do with getting ready to play tournaments, and this is -- you know, I didn't understand people that went out and played a lot.
But basically, it's been since my dad became a member at Seminole, and I was able to go over and play a lot of golf with him, that I really started to enjoy fun golf again and playing these different courses.
And it's a real treat to be able to show up at any golf course in the country or the world and get out and play it and have a bit of fun.
And I think it does put you in a different frame of mind. You're relaxed out there, and maybe that sort of bleeds into your mindset whenever you're here in a big championship. It's no different. I think that's the thing. If I've got a shot that I need to execute under pressure here this week, it's no different than playing that shot when I'm out there playing with my dad or my buddies or whatever it is.
So obviously, there is a separation of the two, but the more you can get into that mindset of being relaxed and enjoying it, the better you're going to play.
Q. Rory, I was going to ask you when the last time you paid a green fee was, but I think we probably know the answer. On a sort of serious note, with the result last week, the Curtis Cup result, the United States now own all the team competitions, and American golfers hold all the majors at the moment.
How confident are you of ending that dominance this week?
RORY McILROY: That's a lot of pressure. (Laughter). They've had a great run. I mean, they hold all the majors, the team events, amateur, professional -- everything, I guess.
Look, these things go in cycles. European golf was very healthy a few years ago for a long time. It seemed every major someone from the island of Ireland turned up to, we were winning it. It doesn't seem that long ago.
But the great young players from this country, they're playing well. They have probably a couple of guys, but one in particular that they try to emulate who's back out here playing, and he's become a friend of theirs.
I think that's been a huge part of all this. A lot of these guys have gotten to know Tiger. And being able to say, okay, this is what he does. And we mightn't be able to achieve everything that he has, but you can at least try to do that. I think that's been a huge thing for Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups, and them as individuals as well.
A lot of strong players, but I feel good about my game. I just want to give myself another chance to win another major championship. It's another opportunity to try and do something great this week.
THE MODERATOR: Rory McIlroy, always a pleasure to have you with us. Thank you so much for your time today. We wish you well throughout the week.
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