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May 18, 2021

Rory McIlroy

Kiawah Island, South Carolina, USA

The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, and welcome back to the 2021 PGA Championship here at the Ocean Course in Kiawah Island, South Carolina. We are pleased to be joined by two-time PGA champion Rory McIlroy.

Welcome back for what is your 13th career PGA Championship. You're back on familiar ground, some good memories I would imagine. Looking back at that win, at the moment the longest golf course in major championship history, only to be bested this year in one of the highest scoring averages on that Friday, was that about as good as you can play that week nine years ago?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it's up there. It's funny, I wasn't playing very well coming into it. I think I missed like four of my last six cuts. Played okay in Akron the week before, finished like fifth. But sort of got here to this course and some weeks you just have a good feeling. Some weeks you just sort of go with it, and it was one of those weeks that it felt good.

And yeah, I got off to a good start. I took advantage of the benign conditions on the first day, and probably the best round of the week for me was the Friday. I think the scoring average that day was 78. I think I shot 75, which I was delighted with.

Then obviously played really well over the weekend.

But yeah, it's nine years ago. It seems longer. It seems like there's been a lot of time that's passed, and I feel like I'm a different person and a different player. You know, it's a different time of year. Probably going to be a different wind than we played in the last time, so it's going to play like a completely different golf course.

I played great here last time, obviously, and won my first PGA and my second major, but just because I did that doesn't mean that I'm going to find it any easier this week than anyone else. It's a really tough test, especially when the wind is blowing like this. Those last few holes out there are brutal. It's going to be a great test.

But yeah, look, I've maybe got some better memories and better vibes here than most of the other guys do, and that's obviously nice, but not sure it's going to enable me to play any better.

It is nice to be back.

Q. I'm just curious, on a windy day like this there's a lot of wind, there's a lot of factors, you're maybe going through a lot of numbers. How do you when you're on the course clip out of that mode and focus on the shot at hand, once you pull the club, step into the shot? Something that you have to put all this thought that you've gone through to the side, what's that process like and how do you do it?

RORY McILROY: You just play golf. I've been playing golf for 30 years, so I sort of -- it's automatic. I don't really think about it. I get the wind, I get the number, I try to visualize what I'm going to do, and then I try to replicate what I have just visualized.

I think in practice rounds, as well, I try to keep my focus by playing one ball and by trying to shoot a score and by trying to get into -- just get into play mode a little bit.

Yeah, on days like this you can almost take on too much information. It's a day where you have to -- you could almost eyeball it instead of having a number. It just sort of -- you could have 110 but it just feels like a little 9-iron or a little 8-iron and just sort of go with that.

It sort of goes back to playing golf as you did as a kid, without a yardage book, and just sort of eyeballing it and playing it a bit more by feel.

Q. Obviously great memories from 2012. Nick Faldo made the point that you could easily come here feeling like you're the defending champion with no disrespect to Collin Morikawa. Is Faldo right?

RORY McILROY: I think I finished tied 32nd last year in this tournament, so no, I don't feel like that at all.

Q. But equally just reflecting on what happened last time here, how different a golfing challenge does it look? Obviously different time of year, weather conditions, it was soft last time. How different is it this time?

RORY McILROY: It's different. It's a different time of year. I think one of the biggest differences that I've noticed is it's not going to be as easy around the greens as it was last time. Last time in August it was hot, humid, the paspalum was like really strong and dense and lush, so the ball would just sit right up on top and it was so easy to just get your lob wedge out, clip it, spin it.

I felt like around the greens last time was a lot easier compared to -- I feel this year they're a little more bare, a touch links-y in places, especially with the wind and the dry weather. I don't think it's going to be quite as simple as it was around the greens like last time.

And that's the one thing I remember about being here the last time is that's what I did so well, I chipped and putted so well that week, and that's what won me the tournament. I scrambled well, and if the wind keeps up like this again this week, that's what you're going to have do well is chip and putt well.

But I think you're going to see guys playing a lot of different shots this week than maybe you saw back in 2012 around the greens.

Q. Was there a proper celebration after Quail Hollow? And what did that do for you now that you've had time to reflect on it, getting that win?

RORY McILROY: No (laughing). No, I got on the plane at about 7:45 on Sunday night, got home probably around 10:00, put Poppy to bed, and I took a shower and went to bed myself. I was exhausted. Not really.

My mom and dad came around our house on Monday just to see me. But no, it was sort of -- I took a couple days off at the start of the week actually because my neck was still a little stiff and I just wanted to make sure that that cleared out, and then started to practice a little more on Wednesday leading up to this week.

No, like I said at the time, it was a great start. It was a great sort of validation that I'm working on the right things, but it was just a step in the process. It was wonderful to get the win, but even if I had have came away from Quail without winning, I think I still would have been very encouraged with the sort of golf that I played.

Q. I know you won a Quail, even though you probably didn't have your best driving week and missed a lot of fairways. Can you have that kind of game and success here on this course if you don't hit it in the fairway?

RORY McILROY: If I don't miss from inside six feet this week, I'll do okay. So yeah. But I didn't drive the ball particularly -- I didn't drive the ball badly at Quail. There was a lot of crosswinds and there's a lot of doglegs, and the fairways play half of the width of what they actually are. There was a lot of tee shots that I hit good shots but they just missed the fairway or I hit -- I hit three tee shots on 14, the drivable par-4, that go into a greenside trap and they're missed fairways.

You can't really read too much into the stats. Yeah, I didn't drive it my best, but I certainly didn't drive it all over the lot. I actually hit it pretty well.

Yeah, this is a golf course you need to put the ball in play. But you've got pretty wide fairways here. I think visually like all Pete Dye courses it's pretty intimidating off the tee visually, but then when you get up there you realize you've got quite a bit of room.

I've always -- I remember back in '12 I liked it because there's a lot of targets on the horizon here that you can pick out and really focus in on your targets even if you're maybe hitting into a big expansive fairway. You can pick out TV towers or houses in the distance or trees, and that makes it a little easier.

Q. Just curious your thoughts at this point on the Olympics. It's obviously not going to be the experience that everybody would have hoped, and I wonder if that impacts your thinking at all about it. We've had some players that have bowed out, maybe more for scheduling reasons, but still.

RORY McILROY: No, it's certainly not going to be the authentic Olympic experience that you would normally get, but it's the times that we're living in, I guess. Sort of no different than when you go over and play a tournament in Asia anyway. You see the golf course and the hotel and that's sort of it.

It's not going to be that much different to what we play when we go over and play the HSBC or ZOZO or CJ Cup or whatever.

Yeah, it's not ideal, but it's still a good opportunity to do something that I've never done before, and I'm at least looking forward to -- this is my 13th PGA Championship. I've been around now for a long time, so it's sort of rare to be able to do something for the first time again. I'm sort of looking forward to that.

Q. I'm wondering as last week sort of settles in, are you surprised at all how quickly you're making progress swing-wise? Does a week like that change your expectations of what's reasonable to expect from yourself this weekend and the near future?

RORY McILROY: Yeah. I've always said when you're in the thick of it, it always seems further away than it is.

I guess the big thing that I was really encouraged with at Quail Hollow is it's my first time really getting myself into contention in a while, and to have those thoughts and movements sort of hold up under that pressure, trying to win a golf tournament, coming down some really tough holes, that's what I was really pleased with.

The two shots on 16, the tee shot into 17, obviously the tee shot into the last wasn't great, but I got away with it. But those three shots coming -- to hit the shots exactly the way I wanted to and play those holes very well with a lead, that's something that I haven't been able to do probably over the last 18 months, going back to the start of 2020.

I was very encouraged with that. So yeah, look, it's something I'm just going to have to continue to work on. I want to get better. I want my game to get better. I want to become more consistent. I want to be in those positions more often than I have been, and that'll just mean keeping the head down and putting in the work.

I've been doing that for the last couple of months, and it was nice to see some results pretty early on. But I feel like there's still a long way to go.

Q. You mentioned your win here in 2012 feeling like a lifetime ago. How much has your life changed since that win?

RORY McILROY: A lot. Yeah. A lot has changed. I'm in a completely different place in my life. Yeah, everything has changed, really. Yeah, I feel like a completely different person.

A lot has changed. I think a lot has changed for the better. I'm standing up here probably more confident in myself, happier with where I am in my life, and yeah, just sort of enjoying everything, enjoying life, enjoying everything a bit more.

Yeah, it's all good.

Q. Before your win at Quail Hollow, was there perhaps a bit of time where you might have lost belief in yourself? And if so, how did you get through it?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I don't -- yeah, not belief in myself and belief that I couldn't do it again, but it's more the -- it's the short -- I think when you get into those scenarios it's very easy to think of short-term, think of quick fixes, think of what can I do to try to get this better for next week, where you really have to try to take a step back and look at the big picture and think, okay, what do I need to do to be in the place I want to be in in six months' time, and then that takes pressure off yourself. Like, okay, this is a gradual process and sort of take it step by step.

I think when you're in that place of searching, it's all very short-term thinking instead of just thinking of the long-term a little bit, seeing the bigger picture, and that's sort of really what I've tried to do. That's why I keep saying that Quail was awesome, it was great to get a win, but I'm thinking way beyond that, and I think that's why -- it's funny, when you sort of think that way, something like that just sort of happens to fall into your lap. It's almost like the less you try, the more things sort of go your way.

Q. Following on from that, how would you characterize your feelings going into this week? You said in your opening remarks, some weeks you have a good feeling. Where would you be this week?

RORY McILROY: I'm happy with where my game is, so I guess if I go out and play my game and do what I know that I can do, then I can see myself shooting good scores on this golf course. So that's sort of where I'm at. Whether that means I win or not, that's partly up to me, but that's partly on how the other 155 guys in the field play, as well.

I've just got to go out there, play my game, and if I play my game somewhat close to the best of my ability, I'm sure I'll have a good chance.

Q. How does that contrast with before the Masters?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, different, very different. I went into the Masters searching and feeling like I was somewhat on the right track but still hadn't seen any progress on the golf course. I had seen some progress off it and on the range, but then trying to get it on to the course was still -- I was in that transition period.

Just having those extra couple weeks after Augusta to work on some more stuff and then go to Quail Hollow and start to see some good shots under pressure, I was like, oh, this is feeling a little more comfortable. Yeah, just more comfortable, I guess, with everything.

Q. You made a point after Quail Hollow to kind of highlight Harry's role in helping you keep a clear head on 18. I wonder how you guys' relationship as player-caddie has changed or developed the last few years.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I think first and foremost we're best friends. That's sort of the relationship we have. It's very, very hard for me to call Harry my caddie because that sort of puts down the relationship a little bit. I never really want to say my caddie Harry. That just sort of feels weird for me to say that.

This was supposed to be a short-term thing back in 2017, and I ended up really enjoying it, really liking it, and he -- we made the decision that this was going to be a long-term thing, and it's worked out great. We've had six wins together.

I think the reason I wanted to single Harry out, as well, I feel like he gets some negativity around the relationship that's very unfair, uncalled for. People don't know him, don't really know me. They sort of see things from the outside and from their own perspective, but they don't really know.

I wanted to make a point of Harry was 100 percent the person that told me not to hit that ball on 18 in the creek, and if it wasn't for him, I probably would have lost the tournament because I'd still probably be trying to hack it out of there. I'm like a dog, if I see a golf ball I want to hit it. It's there. Or if someone puts a football in front of me I want to kick it. I saw the ball, I wanted to hit it.

He's like, let's just think about this. That was the reason I wanted to single it out, because he kept a cool head when maybe I wasn't in the best place. And yeah, because of that unfair criticism that I think he's gotten over the last couple years, I wanted to just make a point of we know what we're doing out there. All these armchair critics are --

Q. Does that come from him being your friend? Is that where the criticism comes from?

RORY McILROY: I mean, you'd have to ask the people that are criticizing, I think. But it certainly comes from a place of me being his friend of wanting to stick up for him because I know all the criticism is unfair.

Q. You spoke about the crowds at Charlotte and I think you said that you needed this. There's obviously big crowds here this week. You spoke about last year struggling with no one there. How would you articulate what it means to go from crowds watching you as an amateur golfer to nothing at all to the top of the game? How different and difficult was that?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it's funny, ever since I was 16 years old I've had thousands of people watch me play golf pretty much every time I teed it up. Even going back to amateur golf and -- so then not having that, playing in that environment for 14, 15 years and then sort of going the complete opposite, it's just different.

Yeah, I said at the time it was like playing practice rounds. It's easy to lose concentration.

Everyone is used to a certain environment, whether you work or whatever you do, and it's a bit -- I watched the Champions League semifinals a couple weeks ago and those guys play in that for the first time in their careers and they're playing in an empty stadium. I mean, that just must be terrible. That's not at all how you dream of being in a squad like that and playing in a massive game.

You want to play in front of people and you want to feel that atmosphere. It's unfortunate that in these times a lot of people don't have that experience, but I am glad that we're getting back to some sort of normalcy, and when you hit good shots and hole putts there is claps and rewards and encouragement.

I feel like that's all a part of tournament golf and competitive sports at the highest level, and just happy that I'm starting to come back.

Q. Was there maybe an occasional annoyance or irritation from spectators before --

RORY McILROY: Yeah, love the mashed potatoes guys again. I don't even care about the stupid comments. I'm just glad that everyone is back here.

Q. Just wondering, what were you seeking when you reached out to Bob Rotella, and what did you get from that chat that you had with him?

RORY McILROY: No, I just -- you know, I had worked with Bob before back in 2010. Actually worked with him in the lead-up to winning Quail Hollow for the first time.

Yeah, I've worked with Brad Faxon for the last three years, and Brad speaks so highly of Bob. He just thought it would be a good idea for us to get together and have a chat. We ended up spending like five hours together at The Grove one day and had a really good time.

It just sort of went from there. Look, it's nothing that I haven't heard before, but Bob just puts it in a way that is so simple and can make you laugh and some of the stories that he can tell and some of the stories that you can relate to yourself in some ways.

It was a really fun day, and I got a lot out of it. I talked to him on the phone on Saturday. Yeah, we're in touch and we're -- it's hard to say that we're working together, but we're in contact every week, and I really value his input.

Q. You talked a bit earlier about the 2012 PGA Championship win, but I'm curious from your perspective when you look back at that victory, how big was that moment for you, winning your second major at that moment in your career?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it was huge. A lot of guys have won one major, but it's a big hurdle to get to the second. It was good to get that monkey off my back, especially here, playing so well.

So yeah, it was a big deal. I definitely didn't want to be stuck on one for a long time, so happy to get that second.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Rory. Have a great week.

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