Rory McIlroy (pre-championship)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

BETH MAJOR: We'd like to welcome Rory McIlroy into the interview room at the 2012 U.S. Open.  It is my pleasure to welcome this afternoon our defending champion, Rory McIlroy. Who won the championship title last year in memorable record breaking fashion at Congressional.

Rory, can you talk a little bit about what the last year has been like and what it's like coming back this week as defending champion.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, for sure. It's been a great 12 months. To play these 12 months as a major champion and get to deal with everything that comes along with that has been a great experience.

And, yes, last year at Congressional it was great to get that monkey off my back, if you want to say that, very early in my career. It's been great.

The last 12 months has been fantastic. I felt like I played very well in that time. And really looking forward to this week and giving it a good go in trying to defend.

BETH MAJOR: You decided to play last week in the PGA TOUR event and you played quite well. How important was it for you to be playing well coming into this week?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it was important for me. That was the whole reason to go to Memphis last week, was to try to get some competitive golf and to feel like I shot a couple of good scores. And I saw some really positive signs out there.

So for me I thought it was, looking back on the week, it was a really good idea that I went there. I definitely feel more comfortable about my game going into this week if I hadn't have played. So I'm happy that I did.

Q. Good to see you talking to Jack on CNN the other day. We enjoyed that. Tell us what you learned from talking with Jack and how hard is it going to be to defend your title on a course that's already pretty tricky, as Tiger was saying.

RORY McILROY: It's great when you have the opportunity to sit down with arguably the best player that's ever lived. It was nice to do that with him and nice to just hear his thoughts about how you prepare for major championships and just his thoughts on the game and how he viewed his game and what he felt he needed to do to win tournaments. It's always very interesting to listen to that.

And, yeah, this week is going to be very tough for everyone. It's a tough course. You've got to really ‑‑ all aspects of your game have got to be on. I'm just looking forward to ‑‑ I'm going to really enjoy the week and enjoy the challenge and hopefully that can result in me playing some good golf and maybe having a chance going into Sunday.

Q. A lot of people say that this is a course where maybe the long hitters do not necessarily have a big advantage. How much are you going to try to use your driver? How much are you going to keep it in the bag? Have you made up your mind yet?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it's something I was talking to my caddie about on the way around there. I just played the last 10 holes before coming in here.

I reckon I'm going to use any driver eight or nine times on this course. I'm still going to hit driver, coming in with the mindset that I'm going to attack the golf course and play aggressively when I can. Obviously you have to be smart, but you've got to take your chances around here. And this golf course gives you a few opportunities where you can make birdies. There's a few holes where you just have to settle for a par and be very happy with that.

The rough is not as bad as maybe in previous years where you can get away with some tee shots, especially if you know ‑‑ if you look at some of the ‑‑ there's holes, for example, like 18 where the rough on the left, the left of that fairway, you just can't go in it. It's brutal.

But if you miss it on other parts of the course you can actually get a decent lie and you can get a fairly simple shot to the green. So really you just need to know your way around the golf course and know where you can miss it.

Q. Have you been practicing for tonight? Do you have any experience throwing the basketball in front of 35,000 people? Are you prepared to get booed if you bounce it?

RORY McILROY: I definitely would rather get booed at a baseball game than on a golf course. But, no, I've been throwing a few golf balls on the course, threw a few medicine balls around last night at the gym.

It will be the first experience for me and hopefully I can ‑‑ I don't know whether to play it conservatively and just lob it into his hand or go for the fast one. I'm not sure.

Q. Have you seen the bobble head they have of you? What do you think of it?

RORY McILROY: I think it's maybe better looking than me, which is a good thing.

Q. In the year since you've won the U.S. Open what do you think has changed most about your life and what do you think is the most changed about you?

RORY McILROY: The most that's changed about my life? Sure, I think I'm viewed differently by the golfing public, for sure, and maybe more recognized outside of golf now because of that win.

And the thing that's changed about me. It's really just given me a lot of self belief knowing that I've won one of these before and that I can go and I can do it again. Hopefully it didn't change me much as a person. I still feel like the same person who sat here or sat at Congressional a year ago and was doing a press conference there.

In golfing terms I feel like it's changed me a lot. I feel like it's given me a lot of confidence. And I feel like I have a chance in these tournaments every time I tee it up.

Q. Do they have bobble heads in Northern Ireland?

RORY McILROY: I don't think so, no (laughter).

Q. There's been a lot of talk about how your performance at Memphis is probably good for your confidence going into this tournament. Did your confidence need any help? You carry yourself as a very confident person. Does it shake you at all when you miss the cut a couple of times?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, of course it does. I think it's only natural you just start to question yourself and question your game a little bit.

So to play a solid tournament in Memphis and have a chance to win, that was a disappointing last few holes for me. But leading up to that point I felt like I played some really good golf. And it was great to see.  I hadn't played that sort of golf for a few weeks. So it was nice to see that, especially coming into this week.

Q. Relating to how your life has changed since your win last year, does your definition of what constitutes a good week on Tour, has it changed at all?

RORY McILROY: Yeah. Yeah, it has, for sure.

Q. In what sense?

RORY McILROY: You're not just happy with top‑10s anymore, and you're not happy finishing in the top five. OK, it's a good result, but it's not what you want. Maybe a couple of years ago it would be a step in the right direction and everything is good. You're knocking on the door. But when you get yourself into positions like I did last week you want to finish them off and get wins. So, yeah, it's changed a little bit.

Q. This is your fourth tournament in a row. I'm wondering how you feel in terms of, are you comfortable with it, do you think it's been good?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it's fine. It's not like it's my fourth tournament in a row and I've been in contention for four weeks in a row and it drains you and takes a lot out of you mentally and physically.

The first couple of weeks of that stretch I had the weekend off, where I was just on the range hitting balls.  So I feel fresh. I feel like I had a great four days up here, the weekend of Memorial and before Memphis and got some really good work done here. And I felt like as soon as I got to Memphis I was straight into the tournament, so I wasn't waiting around for it.  I feel like it's worked out well for me.

Q. In the past year how aware have you become of the difficulty in balancing personal life with professional endeavors?

RORY McILROY: It's just finding a balance of everything, with getting enough practice, sponsor commitments, media. You know, what tournaments to play, you know, having a life outside of what you do around golf. Yeah, I mean it is about finding a balance. And it's something I still feel like I'm learning to do.  But, yeah, I'm not complaining. I feel like I'm in a great place. And I'm happy to be doing what I'm doing.

Q. You're in that group with Luke and Louis as the one, two, three group. Do you like the idea of playing in a star‑studded kind of group that is going to draw a lot of attention in an already crowded tournament.  And also in that vein do you think you guys might be overshadowed by the Tiger, Phil, Bubba threesome?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I like it. I think it really adds to the atmosphere and it gets you up for ‑‑ of course you're going to be up for it anyway, but it just sort of ‑‑ you know, when you've got a little bit of attention on your group it focuses your mind a little bit and you feel like you want to be really prepared from the first hole.

Of course, having Tiger and Phil and Bubba in the same group on the opposite side of the draw is going to be huge. If I was a golf fan I'd want to watch that group, because I'm sure you'll see some fireworks.  So it should be a good group to watch.

Q. Any words of wisdom for young Andy Zhang who is going to be the youngest ever U.S. Open competitior. And has Caroline been particularly over the moon over Denmark's win over the Euros?

RORY McILROY: When I was 14 I was getting prepared to play in my club championship, not the U.S. Open, so I'm not sure I could give him any words of wisdom. Just got to go out there and enjoy it. It's an unbelievable experience for someone so young.

I think, yeah, I think he should just enjoy it and you take it all in and just realize that he's got so much more time to develop and mature. By the time he's 18 he'll feel like a veteran.

Yes, Caroline was very happy with the result the other night. Especially they're in a very tough group. To get that win over Holland was very important for them.

Q. There's been some chat about the golf course favoring a left‑to‑right ball flight. Do you agree with that? How comfortable are you feeling about hitting the ball both ways this week, especially left‑to‑right?

RORY McILROY:  Yeah, for sure.  The golf course definitely favors a left‑to‑right shaped shot.  You have to hit a lot of those, especially off the tee.  I'm thinking 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, there's a lot of holes where you've got to shape the ball left‑to‑right off the tee.

And it's something I'm sure all the guys who are playing this week have been working on, including myself. Yeah, I feel comfortable on the golf course. I feel comfortable with the tee shots that we face.  Yeah, I'm looking forward to it.

Q. After scoping out the course can you point to two or three shots maybe that you anticipate being especially difficult and crucial in the round?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean you've got to concentrate over every shot here. But coming back even since last week and obviously the greens now are a little firmer, they're a little faster and it makes the greens seem a little more severe.

So the likes of the 17th green, you get it anywhere right of that hole and it's just going down that slope into that runoff area.

13, the par‑3 is going to play, with the green firmer, anything landing on the left side of that green is probably going to feed down that collection area, as well.

But you can look at every hole here and you can pick out something that's tough about it.  All 18 holes this week are going to be crucial.

Q. How does this rate compared to other courses, U.S. Open courses, for difficulty?

RORY McILROY: I'm not sure. I've only played three. I've played Pebble and played Bethpage and played Congressional last year.

It's completely ‑‑ Congressional and Bethpage were very similar, they were both very wet, long, tree lined, parklike golf courses.

This is a little more similar to Pebble. Not quite. It has that feeling about it, just with being on the coast and sort of the cool air and stuff. I'm not sure it will be quite as difficult as Pebble was a couple of years ago, but it's going to be a tough test.

Q. Hell of a Father's Day present last year. Can you talk a little bit about your dad and this tournament, finishing on Father's Day and the special nature of the golf relationship with your dad?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it's great. I think it's a great tradition that this tournament always ends on Father's Day. And it was even more special to have my dad there last year when I was able to pick up the trophy.

My dad was the one that introduced me to the game. He's been 100 percent supportive the whole way through. My junior career, amateur career, and up until this point. He has no real input into my golf or anything anymore, but it's just nice to have him around and have my mom around as well sometimes and just have the support from them. It's always nice to have them at tournaments.

Q. Are they here this week?

RORY McILROY: My dad's here.

Q. You were out there today with Graeme. Could you talk about how you two have helped each other, particularly how he's helped you over the years, and especially last year since you joined him as U.S. Open champ?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I think my first couple of years on Tour he helped me a lot. Just showing me the ropes, doing practice rounds with me, and going out to dinner and stuff.

And I do try and pick up a few things from Graeme because we're two players from opposite ends of the spectrum, I think. We play two totally different games. And I feel like I can learn a little bit off him the way he approaches it. And I'm sure he feels the same way about the way I play, as well.

But it's good. It's just good to have a friend like that out on Tour that you can chat with and share ideas with. He's definitely been great for me since I turned pro.

Q. Talk about amateur golf a little bit. You played on the 2007 Walker Cup team that had a tough loss at Royal County Down. And the Great Britain and Ireland team just won the Curtis Cup and we've got the Walker Cup victory for Great Britain and Ireland in 2011. What do you think about GB and I holding both those crowns for the first time in a while?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it's great. It's fantastic. I know ‑‑ I followed a little bit of the Curtis Cup last week, and I saw that the GB and I girls made a great comeback, especially after the first day.

It's fantastic. I think the conditions probably played in our favor in both encounters. But it's great. I played for two years, amateur golf, just to make the Walker Cup team. It was a very special moment for me. It's what I wanted to do before I turned pro.  I just really wanted to play. I think looking back on my career if I hadn't played in the Walker Cup I probably would have regretted it.

Q. You talked about six weeks or so ago about trying to establish yourself as the No. 1 in the seesaw battle. Is it going to be harder than you thought?

RORY McILROY: Obviously so. No. Yeah, it is what it is. Luke has got a little bit of a lead. But it's so volatile, it can just change so much. And you've really got to have a good stretch of golf, say a six‑month period, where you might win three or four times and you have a lot of good finishes and maybe then you can start to establish a bit of a lead. But for the time being everyone just seems to be pretty close. And it looks like that's the way it's going to be for a while.

BETH MAJOR: Rory, thank you so much for joining us today. You've been a wonderful U.S. Open champion and we wish you well this week.


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