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July 17, 2019

Rory McIlroy

Portrush, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

MIKE WOODCOCK: We're joined in the interview room by the 2014 champion Golfer of the Year, and a native son of Northern Ireland, Rory McIlroy.

This is going to be a very special week, but I think for you and the Northern Irish players, this is going to be something else. Can you talk us through the emotions of what you'll be feeling when you tee it up here tomorrow.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, you know, I think my history maybe isn't quite as long here at Portrush than, say, Darren or G-Mac. But my first memories of Portrush are coming up here to watch my dad play in the north of Ireland.

I remember chipping around the chipping green, being seven or eight years of age, my dad out playing on the Dunluce. And they were sort of -- my summers and then all of a sudden I got to the stage where I was playing north of Ireland and coming up here. My dad brought me to Portrush for my 10th birthday to play, which was my birthday present. Actually met Darren Clarke that day for the first time, which was really cool.

Portrush has been a very big, at least the golf club, has been a big part of my upbringing. It's sort of surreal that it's here. Even driving in yesterday, when you're coming in on the road and you look to the right and you've got the second tee, I think like, I don't know who was teeing off, maybe Tony Finau and someone else, sort of strange to see them here.

But it's really cool. It just sort of shows what we've done in terms of players. G-Mac winning the U.S. Open, Darren winning The Open, and then some of the success that I've had. And how Northern Ireland has come on as a country that we're able to host such a big event here again.

Delighted that it's back here. Delighted to be a part of it. And at this stage just excited to tee it up and get going tomorrow.

Q. What sporting events did you go to in the area growing up? What were big sporting events in this area for you to attend and how does this blow all those others away?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean, just your normal like Northern Ireland football matches, Ulster rugby games. I guess that was sort of -- obviously up here they've got the motorcycle racing, Northwest 200, which is pretty big every year.

If you really wanted to get a sense of what a huge sporting occasion was you maybe had to go down to Dublin for an Irish rugby game or go across the water to see Man United play or something like that.

But in terms of a huge sporting event, I don't think there's been one quite this big here for a long time.

Q. U.S. Players, as you know, are on the verge of a sweep of the four majors for the first time since the early 1980s. With the ballyhooed return to Royal Portrush, how important is it for you to defend the home turf and prevent this from happening?
RORY McILROY: That's not why I'm here this week.

Look, these things are very cyclical. You look at the European success in the majors sort of 2010, 2011. You know, these things happen in cycles. I don't think there's any rhyme or reason to it.

The United States have got a lot of great golfers. You look at what Brooks has done, you look at Tiger, coming back. It's just sort of these things go in stages and they go in cycles.

As I said, I'm not here to defend anything. I'm here to try and win a golf tournament.

Q. You've spoken in the past about at Irish Opens, for example, you've sometimes struggled with the pressure on your shoulders. Is there anything you can do this week to maybe draw on the positive energy instead or is it speaking to sports psychologist? Does Harry have a role to play?
RORY McILROY: I think, as well, I think it's probably easier this week because it's such a big tournament. There's so many -- you've got the best players in the world here, and I don't feel like I'm the center of attention.

I think that coming back here for the first time in 68 years, some of the other players that are here -- look, I'm from Northern Ireland and I'm playing at home, but I don't see myself as that center of attention, I guess. I'm here to enjoy myself. Hopefully it doesn't take another 68 years for the tournament to come back here.

But at the same time, I mightn't get an opportunity to play an Open Championship here again. You never know what happens. I'm really just treating it as a wonderful experience and one that I really want to enjoy.

I'm going to love being out there and having the crowds and having the support. If that can't help you, then nothing can.

Q. Our friends at CBS did some number crunching on strokes gained. This season you're No. 1, and it's the fourth best since it began. How much confidence does it give you this week, and do you think that's where your game is?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I do. I think it's probably the most consistent period of golf I've ever played. And, yeah, you look at my -- I use strokes gained numbers a lot in terms of what am I doing well in and what needs improvement, what am I going to go practice this week to get ready for next week or whatever it may be.

So, yeah, the strokes gained numbers this year, and I've had a goal -- if you're consistently around two and a half strokes gained, that's a really nice place to live. You're going to have a nice life if you're two and a half strokes gained every time.

I'm sort of pushing up towards the three mark at this point this year. And I know if I keep doing that, then the wins will come and everything else sort of just falls into place.

Q. What was the washing machine on the top yesterday?
RORY McILROY: Just Nike sort of doing what they do. They sort of came out with this Nike polo, and they've got some logos, Tiger sort of wore the Tiger head cover. They wanted to do something special for me this week. Thought washing machine, I grew up here, long winter nights hitting golf balls into my mom's washing machine, so it was a nice little touch.

Q. Just on the crowd, again, you've always performed well at home Ryder Cups with the support. Do you see something similar, you can channel that energy in your game over the four days?
RORY McILROY: No, I don't think this is anything like a Ryder Cup. You're playing for yourself. It's not the same. I wouldn't want to turn this into a Ryder Cup mindset because I think that's hard to sustain for four days.

Again, I'm just treating this like any other Open Championship. I've played well here for the last few years. I've played well on this golf course. So I've just got to go out and hit the shots and stay in the present. If I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, hopefully by Sunday night that will be good enough.

Q. How many rounds have you played here in recent months getting ready for this Open and how does that compare with the way you've prepared for previous Opens?
RORY McILROY: So I came here to do -- I played the week after the Ryder Cup just for a commercial sort of thing. I played last Saturday. And then I played yesterday. So is that three times in the last year? And that's sort of similar to what I would usually do at any other Open Championship.

I feel like you can -- for me sometimes, you know, you play a golf course so much you start looking at the places where you don't want to hit it. I've played well here before. I know what I'm doing around here. I sort of was worried, I got here last Saturday thinking the course is going to change, the setup for an Open might be different. And I got here, and it's still the same place.

I said this last week, I had dinner booked -- I hadn't seen my mom in three months. I had dinner booked with a parents on Saturday night at 8:00, thinking I'm going to have to spend some time around the greens and just prepare. And I got on the road back home and rang them and said, Can we move dinner up? Because I finished early. There's no difference. It's the same golf course.

I think I was making it a little bit bigger in my head than it needed to be. And I've played this place enough times to know where to miss it, where not to miss it, where the good leaves are. No matter if there's grandstands around or if there's not, or if there's a lot of people or if there's not, it's the same golf course.

Q. At the Masters you talked about taking up meditation. I was wondering if that's something you're still doing and if you're going to do it this week either before or after rounds?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I still do it from time to time. I sort of do a guided meditation every night before I go to bed. It's something that helps me sleep better. Something I've tried to incorporate into my daily routine.

But there's a lot of -- I find hitting golf balls meditative. I think that to me is a nice way to unwind and clear the head a little bit. There's many different ways of doing it. I think people hear the term "meditation" and they think sort of spiritual, yoga, hippy sort of stuff. It's not quite like that.

Q. You touched on this a little bit, but are there any nuances of the course where your experience helps you a good bit? And also, how much do you think the rain or steady rain impacts how it will play?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I think so. I think there's a lot of approach shots here that are visually a little more intimidating than they play. Thomas Bjørn walked a few holes with me yesterday, and I hit sort of a nice little draw over the right-hand bunker on 3, it looks like it's going to miss the green by a mile, and then he gets up there and the ball is in the middle of the green. He said, I wouldn't have thought that's where.

But just little things and knowing where the lines are. I'm maybe a little more comfortable doing that stuff around here than some of the other Open venues.

And then with the rain, you know, I think when this course gets crosswinds, so today it's out of the south. I think the rest of the week it's sort of southwest. And there's a lot of crosswinds in that sort of wind direction, and that's what's going to make it tough. Because you're already hitting across a lot of fairways, sort of slight doglegs. So that will make it tough.

And I think the big key this week is just to keep it out of the fairway bunkers and keep it out of the rough. Even if you're giving yourself a little longer second shots in. You're able to play this golf course from the fairway. And with the way the rough has grown over the past couple of weeks, you're not going to be able to score hitting it off line.

Q. You've already touched on your experience on this golf course and how much you're enjoying it this week. You've played plenty of North of Irelands here as has your caddie Harry. What advantage is that going to be going forward? In terms of the course record you shot here, what course record represents a good number this week on the changed course?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I think that's one of the things people don't realise, Harry has played more rounds of golf on this golf course than I have, and definitely more competitive rounds. He reached the final of the North a few years ago. So he's got a lot of -- he's just as comfortable on this golf course as I am. So that is a big help this week.

This golf course has changed so much since 2005 when I shot the 61. It's a different par, different holes. There's a lot of holes that have been lengthened. There's been a par-5 turned into a par-4.

I think this week, conditions like this, then you're looking at 67, 68 is a good score. Conditions like I played it last night, then you could probably potentially see someone shoot a 63, 64, 65.

Q. You said you're willing to play in the Olympics. What made you change your mind? And what does playing in the Olympics mean to you?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, so I think personally I needed to do a lot of inner thought and sort of, Is this important to me? Why do I want to play it? Who do I want to represent? All that sort of stuff.

I guess I was -- at the start whenever I was thinking of playing the Olympics, I think I let other people's opinions of me weigh on that decision. And at the end of the day, it's my decision. I can't please everyone. The only people that really care about who I play for, who I represent, don't mean anything to me. I don't care about them.

So at the end of the day, I think with where golf is, with it being part of the Olympic movement, I think if I had to look back on my career and not played in one, I probably would have regretted it. So that was part of the reason I wanted to go, for the experience, as well. It's going to be -- it's a wonderful experience. I've never done anything like that before.

And it's in Japan. I enjoy Japan. I enjoy the people. I enjoy the food. So it will be a nice week.

Q. With your knowledge and experience here, do you have a strict game plan about tee shots here, depending on wind or do you have a little bit of flexibility on that? And if you do, do you allow Harry this week to have a little more influence on questioning a decision out there?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, definitely. I think flexibility is a good word because, as you know in links golf, different wind conditions and different wind directions can completely change what you do and how holes play.

For example, the second hole here you've got those collection of the three bunkers, around 280, 290 off the tee, but then you've got a bunker on the left-hand side that's 310. And the only way I'd ever hit driver there is if I knew I could carry that bunker on the left. For the most part I'll lay it up.

I think one of the great things about this golf course is -- and I sort of realized this last Saturday when I came to play -- off the tee it makes you challenge at least one bunker. If you try to take all the bunkers out of play, it's going to be very difficult. You're leaving yourself a lot of long shots.

I think a lot of tee shots here you challenge one bunker but you sort of stay short of the next. You sort of have a little area to hit it into. So it still makes you play -- you still have to concentrate on the tee shot.

But, yeah, there is flexibility. There's some holes in certain winds I can hit driver, in certain winds I'll just hit an iron and play it that way.

And with Harry's experience around here, he's probably played this place more times than I have, yeah, not that I don't let him have any say any other weeks, but I think with his experience around here, my ear will be a little sharper to what he has to say.

Q. Can you talk about your interaction with the locals this week, be it on the golf course or elsewhere? Have you had anything that has brought a smile to your face?
RORY McILROY: I've sort of tried to keep it low key. I went for dinner last night and people are just coming up and saying good luck and have a great week. It's very nice. If I'm honest, it hasn't felt any different than any other Open Championship, I feel like I get great support no matter where I go. I'm sure it will feel different tomorrow on that first tee and the buzz and everything. But up to this point the build up, it really hasn't been much different, which has been a nice thing. It's comforting in that way that it hasn't felt any different.

Q. Legacy is a word that's bandied around by guys like me a lot. I wonder what you think and hope the legacy The Open Championship being in Portrush might be long-term. And how might that be ramped up if you were to lift the Claret Jug here on Sunday afternoon?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I think that in golfing terms I think its legacy could be young boys and girls are keen to pick a golf club up and play, not that I feel -- a lot of people I know and their kids, they all play golf. I feel like golf is a very accessible sport here, which is -- I'm very fortunate that I grew up here because it was so accessible and you didn't have to come from money or anything to play the game.

So I think no matter what happens this week, if I win or whoever else wins, having The Open back in this country is a massive thing for golf. And I think as well it will be a massive thing for the country.

Sport has an unbelievable ability to bring people together. We all know that this country sometimes needs that. This has the ability to do that. Talking of legacy, that could be the biggest impact this tournament has outside of sport, outside of everything else, is the fact that people are coming here to enjoy it and have a good time and sort of forget everything else that sort of goes on.

Q. You touched on it a little bit there, and at the start, but this sort of thing would never have happened in Northern Ireland when you were a very young kid. What do you think it means that it can be here after the years of troubles?
RORY McILROY: I think it just means that people have moved on. It's a different time. It's a very prosperous place. I'm very fortunate that I grew up in -- just outside Belfast and I never seen anything, I never -- I was oblivious to it.

I remember I watched a movie a couple of years ago, it was just basically called "'71." It's about a British soldier that gets stationed at the Palace Barracks in Holywood, which is literally 500 yards from where I grew up and it basically follows him on the night of the troubles and all that. And I remember asking my mom and dad, is this actually what happened?

And it's amazing to think 40 years on it's such a great place, no one cares who they are, where they're from, what background they're from, but you can have a great life and it doesn't matter what side of the street you come from. And I think that's what I was talking about about legacy of this tournament, to be able to have this tournament here again, I think it speaks volumes of where the country and where the people that live here are now. We're so far past that. And that's a wonderful thing.

Q. In this press conference there's been so much talk about the location and the locals and the legacy and everything like that. Is there a danger that once you get out there this just becomes this great celebration of Irish golf and of yourself and of everything that's happened, and it begins to feel less like the sort of cold-hearted major that it needs to be for you?
RORY McILROY: That can go one of two ways; right? I've always felt I've played my best golf when I've been totally relaxed and loose. And maybe that environment is what I need. I'm not saying that that's the way I'm going to approach it. I'm still going to try to go out and shoot good scores and concentrate and do all the right things.

But at the same time, I can't just put the blinkers on and pretend that's not all going on. I still have to -- one of my sort of mantras this week is: Look around and smell the roses. This is a wonderful thing for this country and golf in general. And to be quite a big part of it is an honour and a privilege. And I want to keep reminding myself of that, that this is bigger than me; right? This is bigger than me.

And I think if you can look at the bigger picture and you can see that, it sort of takes a little bit of the pressure off. I still want to play well and concentrate and do all the right things, but at the same time just having that perspective might just make me relax a little bit more.

MIKE WOODCOCK: On that note, best of luck this week. Thanks for joining us.

RORY McILROY: Thank you.

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