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November 10, 2020
THE MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to welcome Rory McIlroy to the media center this afternoon. First I would like to congratulate you on the birth of Poppy Kennedy.
RORY McILROY: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: How has becoming a father affected your approach to the game, or is it any influence at all?
RORY McILROY: I don't know if there's been any influence. I think it's probably changed my outlook on life a little bit more. I think I grew up as an only child and an only child playing golf, so I feel like the whole world revolved around me for a long time, and now it doesn't. It revolves around this little person that came into the world a few weeks ago, and it's a nice change of pace. It's different.
I was even saying, getting up here, the first day, playing yesterday, getting back to the house, like there was no thought of turning the TV on. There was no thought of going on my phone. It was just go and see her and play a little bit before she goes to bed. It's nice to take your mind off things, too.
But yeah, in a way it's, you know, as I said, I think you need to be a pretty selfish person to be a good player at this game, and a little bit of selflessness probably isn't a bad thing for me.
THE MODERATOR: You're coming into this fall Masters with some form, 29 birdies in ZoZo, your last tournament, and you were very strong in strokes saved off the tee. And I looked on your Instagram, you hit the ball speed that you were chasing for a long time. How will that translate into what you're doing this week?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I think so, I mean, it's the whole trend in the game at the minute. People trying to get a bit longer and a bit more speed, and I think having a bit of length this week is going to be an advantage. The course is pretty soft. You know, with the rain forecast as well, it might get even softer.
Look, the game feels pretty good. Before the world changed in March, I was playing pretty good. I got to No. 1 in the world, was playing pretty consistent golf, and then after we came back out of the lockdown, I've sort ofâ€‘â€‘ there's been really good stuff in there, but there's been some lackluster stuff, too, lapses of concentration.
You know, sometimes feeling like you're out there and it doesn't really count. It's been an adjustment to get used to, but we've been in it now for a few months, and feel like I'veâ€‘â€‘ maybe took me a little longer to adjust than some people, but this is the way it's going to be for a while. They are still handing out trophies at the end of every week, so you may as well try and play as hard as possible for them.
THE MODERATOR: You've been up here twice in the last two weeks or so. Do you have a better feel for the course and how it's playing?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I came up here like two weeks ago, I guess it was, and the course was very soft, very long then. It wasn't quite as warm as it is now, and then I was up last Saturday. The course was a little firmer, a little better, a little faster. And then it seems as if the days have went on, it's just gradually getting a little more what we're used to, a little faster, a little more bounce up to the greens, a little firmness to the greens.
It's still not the same as what it is in April because it can't be. I mean, you guys can do a lot of things here at Augusta, but I don't think you're magicians. So it's a little different, but you know, that's to be expected, and I think everyone is looking forward to it.
I think everyone is just so grateful that there is a Masters this year and we're playing it, and I think everyone is looking forward to getting started.
Q. When you talk about your results basically postâ€‘pandemic and some of the adjustments you've gone through, how do you feel about the state of your game going into this Masters compared with previous ones in April? How much does form really matter to you?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, honestly I do feel good. I feel good about my game. I'd say over the last two months I've worked on some technical stuff in my swing that I needed to. Swing was getting very flat and very deep underneath the plane on the way down. I feel like I had to sort of hang on to it through impact to hit it straight, where now it's getting back down on plane, I feel I can fully release it and the ball is goingâ€‘â€‘ it's starting straight. I don't have to feel like I hold onto it to hit a straight shot.
That sort of has given me a nice bit of freedom throughout my swing. I don't really have the fear of the left as I had sort of during the summer.
And yeah, I've played pretty well. I made a bunch of birdies at ZoZo, and I made a few mistakes, as well. I've always felt it's harder to make the birdies than it is to get rid of the bogeys and the others.
This week, it's take advantage of the holes that you can, play smart on the other ones. And if you can do that and think a little bit better and concentrate a little bit more, and just limit your mistakes, that's always a good thing around here.
You're sort of making sure that you make no worse than a bogey on any hole. That's something that I probably haven't done here that well in the past. I've made a few big numbers, and if you can limit those, yeah, take your medicine, be smart, punch out of trees, not try to be a hero, that all can sort of add up to at the end of the week to saving a few shots here and there.
Q. Without grandstands and without Patrons lining the fairways and the greens, does that change any strategy whatsoever about where you can miss, where you can miss now, where you can't miss now, does that change anything?
RORY McILROY: A little bit. Sometimes I've thought like for the second hole, for example, the second shot into 2, for some of those pins over on the left side, if you get it out of position, like hitting it way right almost over near the third tee box isn't actually a bad play, but usually whenever there's a lot of people, they put that like green sandy stuff down, and now you don't have that. You hit it out to the right, you have a perfect lie.
And so I think around the greens, it's a little different because you don't have the Patrons walking and matting the grass down. The lies are maybe a little bit better around where the Patrons would sort of sit and stand.
But not really. I mean, it's the same golf course. You're always trying to look inside where the people would be standing, anyway.
Q. What are your thoughts on your opening draw with Dustin Johnson and Patrick Cantlay and your thoughts on teeing off on the 10th tee on early Friday morning?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, it's good. I see DJ and Patrick nearly every day when I'm home there, both members of The Bear's Club. We all practice at the same place. I think it's a pretty comfortable draw for all of us. DJ and I actually teamed up today to beat Phil and Xander in a little match on the back nine, so that's good.
Yeah, I actually teed off 10 on Sunday last year. So it's notâ€‘â€‘ it's not as if it's new to me. I did it last year and it's not bad, if you can get off to a decent start, then you've got a nice run of holes through sort of the middle to the end of the back nine, and then into the front nine. You know, you can get on a little run there.
So yeah, I don't see any real difference. I mean, obviously everyone is going to try to get through 10 and 11 unscathed, and then the course sort of opens up from there.
Q. You mentioned the trend of everyone trying to add speed and get longer. It feels like there's extra attention on that this year given Bryson's performance in the last major. And also this just being the cathedral of golf, where you come back every year. And in the 19 months since last year's Masters, a lot has changed, and there's concern about how this is going to hold up and what the future holds. Do you share that concern at all?
RORY McILROY: No, I don't share that concern. If you look at Bryson's strokes gained numbers at the U.S. Open, strokes gained around the green and strokes gained putting was better than strokes gained off the tee. He did drive it really well, but at the same time you need to back that up with all other aspects of your game.
If trophies were handed out just for how far you hit it and how much ball speed you have, then I'd be worried. But there's still a lot of different aspects that you need to master in this game.
But look, I can see this being quite a lowâ€‘scoring week, but that's just because of the way the golf course is, it's a little softer, it's November. It's going to play a little differently. Yeah, I stillâ€‘â€‘ I still think this golf course provides enough of a challenge to challenge the best players in the world.
Q. Phil was in here just a minute ago and he said he has zero doubt you're going to win a green jacket and possibly more than one. I'm just wondering after some of the disappointments you've had here, if you share that confidence?
RORY McILROY: I mean, I'd like to think so. But look, nothing's given in this game. I guess there's no better person to maybe talk about, to sit down and have a chat with Phil because he broke through here when he was 34 here for his first major after knocking on the door for a long time. I'm not quite in that scenario, but I'm looking for my first here.
So yeah, look, I've always felt like I had the game to do well around here and to play well. It's just a matter of, you know, getting out of my own way and letting it happen.
But as I said, you have to go out and earn it. You can't just rely on people saying that you're going to win one. Greg Norman never did. Ernie Els never did. There are a lot of great people that have played this game that have never won a green jacket. It's not a foregone conclusion, and I know that. I have to go out and earn it and play good golf.
I think nowadays, with how many great players there are, I need to play my best golf to have a chance.
Q. The Masters is special in part because of its many traditions, the beginning of spring. What will you miss most about the look of an April Masters compared to this one in November?
RORY McILROY: I don't know if it's the look that I'll miss or if it's the atmosphere, it's the buzz, it's the excitement, it's the anticipation. I was saying to John earlier, Jon Rahm held his shot on 16 today skipping it over the water. Just imagine the roars that would have created in a normal year. That would have been pretty cool.
That's something that is obviously going to be different this year for obvious reasons. And yeah, I mean, obviously it's pretty. The azaleas on 13 and everything in the spring is nice. I've had a closer look at them than most people. I've hit it up into the those azaleas left of 13 too many times.
It's a different look. It's November, and I think everybody just has to embrace that we're here and we're playing and that's a great thing.
Q. Before everything shut down, you would have been coming in here as maybe the primary story that everybody was talking about, and since then Bryson has taken over the narrative a lot and you're a little more under the radar coming in here. Do you prefer that rather than us constantly talking about your quest and what you can accomplish here?
RORY McILROY: I do prefer that. I like it. I've always liked sort of doing my own thing and trying to stay as lowâ€‘key as possible. Sometimes the way I've played over the years, that hasn't happened because I've won some tournaments and I've been on some pretty good runs at times.
But yeah, I don't mind this. This is nice. It feels like everything this year. It's more subdued. It's more relaxed. That's the feel for me, anyway. Obviously Bryson is going to be feeling a little different because the attention is on him and deservedly, so coming off the back of a major win and basically disrupting the game of golf over the last few months. It's a big story, and I'm just as intrigued as everyone else to see how that unfolds.
Q. Have you ever been this relaxed going into a majorâ€‘â€‘ into a Masters, sorry.
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I have. It's notâ€‘â€‘ there's beenâ€‘â€‘ I think the times when I'm not relaxed is when I'm not feeling comfortable with my game and I'm not sure of some aspects of my game. That's when you're not as relaxed. But as I said at the start of this press conference, my game feels good. You know, I've hit it well over the past couple of weeks in practice up here playing, playing a couple of practice rounds the last two days.
I feel as in control as I have been for a while, and that adds to that relaxed feeling. You know that it's in there. It's just a matter of going out. And as I said to Alan, just getting out of my own way and just playing. Play with freedom.
Q. Curious with the year that it's been for all of us, all the upheaval with COVID, with everything else that's happening, to the extent to which golf has been a refuge for you in a place that you can really find a haven on the course, in the practice areas and how the game has been for you in that regard?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I think it's been a refuge for a lot of people. You look at rounds of golf played is way up this year. The golf equipment business is booming. Golf has been one of the only things that people can do. You can get outside. You can socially distance. You can stay safe. People have probably taken up the game that haven't played golf in 20 years.
With all the bad stuff that's happened with the pandemic, some silver lining I guess is the fact that our game has probably never been in better shape. So that's a good thing, and hopefully that continues. Hopefully it's not just something that people pick up in the middle of a pandemic and then they set it aside.
Hopefully people continue to play golf and realize what a wonderful game it is.
Q. You mentioned up top that you think great players need a large elements of selfishness. Curious what you think some other shared traits are among successful people, whether it be golfers or businessmen or anybody else.
RORY McILROY: I mean, if you wanted to just put one word, it's probably grit, and whateverâ€‘â€‘ you know, there's a lot of words that you can associate with grit: persistence, perseverance, stubbornness, doggedness, never really giving up on your dreams. That's the common denominator.
Grit is something thatâ€‘â€‘ I don't think it's something you're born with, I think it's something you need to learn to have, something you can sort of cultivate.
But I think that'sâ€‘â€‘ going back to someone like Bryson, I think Bryson has got a lot of that because he does things very differently, and he's not afraid to be different. And that takes courage and perseverance and persistence, so yeah.
Q. If the greens are not as firm, are they still difficult to hold and are they still tricky? And the second thing is, when you're up here with your dad, do you play a match with him, do you give him strokes? Is it competitive or is it just playing?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, look, when the greens are softer, I think it makesâ€‘â€‘ it makes most second shots easier. You can be a little more aggressive. The ball is going to hold on some of the different areas on the greens. Unless you're going in with wedges where the ball is going to spin a lot, then you're going to have to start to take spin off and sort of hit little shots and threeâ€‘quarter shots.
But for the most part, second shots into par 5s and shots into the longer par 4s, they are slightly easier when the greens are a little softer. And then when they are softer, they are a touch slower, as well.
I don't think the greens quite got up to the full speed they could even last year. There was some rain. They kept them soft for the Women's Amateur, as well, so they never quite got up to full speed.
And this year, they could, but obviously with rain coming again, it looks like they are not going to be maybe as fast as some years previously. So yeah, it definitely makes the approach shots a little bit easier. You can be a little more aggressive.
And then, yeah, I did, I playedâ€‘â€‘ it was myself, my dad and Jimmy Dunne, who is a member here, and actually a friend of Matt Wolff's, Cole White, who his dad was with Jimmy the day before, and Cole stayed and played another day. So it was meâ€‘â€‘ the young guys, Cole and I took on the old guys. The old guys actually beat us, but I think we lost on the first tee. I think there's too many shots given.
But it's good, I've been very fortunate that I've shared that experience with my dad here a few times. I always think back to growing up at Holywood Golf Club and playing with him there, and to think that 20 years down the line, that we'd be walking up the 18th at Augusta together and playing. I've even got goosebumps just talking about it.
It's really cool and I definitely don't take it for granted.
Q. Since we restarted and golf led the way across sports, figuring out how to do this safely, was there ever a moment where you sort of doubted most that we would ever be able to make it back to here to Augusta in November?
RORY McILROY: I think everything was up in the air at one point. I think when The Open Championship was canceled, I had serious doubts that, you know, we'd play a Masters this year in 2020. I think the R&A were in a tough situation, the fact that if they pushed it back, the daylight in the U.K. just isn't there to hold a field of 156.
I think one of the nice things about the Masters is it's limited fields and you can put people off two tees and pretty much guarantee that most of us are going to get finished if there isn't any weather delays.
You know, Augusta maybe had some things in its favor that The Open Championship didn't, but yeah, I think everyoneâ€‘â€‘ it's been a collective effort. I think the PGA TOUR has worked with Augusta National, with R&A, with the USGA and PGA of America.
If anything, it's made the game, at least at the top level, a little more cohesive. I think the different organizations are working together and working better together, and that's a good thing for the game going forward, as well.
Q. Where do you think your grit came from, and also, could you just give a little bit of highlights of what being a firstâ€‘time father has been like for these first couple months?
RORY McILROY: I think my grit's came from my failures, and I don't have to look any further than this place in 2011. I learnt a lot from that day. I learnt a lot in terms of what I needed to be and what I didn't need to be.
You know, I needed to be myself. I didn't need to try to be like anyone else. But I think failureâ€‘â€‘ you know, I try to say this to young guys that are coming through. You can't be afraid of it. You have to embrace the fact that you are going to fail at things, but you should learn from them and then when you go again, you should be better.
And you know, I've had a nice little bit of success in this game, but I have failed a hell of a lot more than I have succeeded in this game. And that is why I have succeeded, is because I went through those tough patches, and you need to. You need to go through those tough patches to learn. So I feel like that's where I've got my persistence or grit from.
And then the last ten weeks obviously it's beenâ€‘â€‘ I've never used the FaceTime app as much in my phone as I have. Yeah, it's just I really have an appreciation for my mum and dad and what they went through with me. You never think about that stuff, and then you think back to your parents and they were doing the same thing with you 30 years ago.
I have a real appreciation for that.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports