Rory McIlroy tells Peter Bills how he conquered the demons of Augusta to claim his record-breaking US Open title at Congressional
Q: When was the crucial moment, the crucial day?
A: There were probably two. Saturday was a big day for me to get over . . . playing in the last group, going out with the lead. To play such solid golf gave me a lot of confidence going into Sunday. Knowing that I could handle it, to go out there and basically birdie the first hole . . . then to play such solid golf after that, it felt good.
As for a critical moment on the last round, I was very happy with a birdie two on the 10th hole. That was the point in the round I really felt it was mine to lose. After making two there on one of the most difficult holes on the golf course and then getting away with four on 11, I knew I needed to do something pretty bad to lose it.
Q: How deep had the mental scars gone after Augusta, when you shot 80 in the final round? And what did you do to solve the problem so quickly?
A: I felt like I got over the Masters pretty quickly. I kept telling you guys that and I don’t know if you believed me or not. But I was also very honest with myself and I knew what I needed to do differently. That was the thing. I had a clear picture in my mind of what I needed to do and where my focus needed to be when I got myself in that position again. Luckily enough for me, I was able to get in that position again at the major right after Augusta. To be able to finish it off the way I did just tells me that I learned from it and I’ve moved on. Now, I’ve got this I can go ahead and concentrate on getting some more.
Q: Your progress in the sport has been extraordinary. Some said it was your destiny to win a major championship. How do you feel about that now?
A: If you had asked me when I turned pro, when I was 18, do you think you’d win a major by the time you are 22, I would have said no. I would have liked to have been an established player on the European Tour, maybe with a couple of wins. But to contend in the majors how I have so early, I don’t really know what I can put it down to . . . if it’s just hard work and practice, or if I feel like I have just a little bit more focus or intensity for major weeks, I’m not too sure. I am surprised that I’ve done it so early, but it’s great. It’s a great thing for me. I can always call myself a major champion now.
Q: At a time like this, how much do you think of your friends and family back home, and Northern Ireland as a place?
A: A lot is the answer. It will be good to go home. I’m looking forward to getting home and seeing all my friends and family and having a good time with them for a few days. You lose a lot more in golf than you win so when you do win you have to enjoy it. I love being from Northern Ireland, I tell everyone how great it is. For me, it’s the best place on earth. I’m obviously biased but I love it back there and I love the people.
Q: Are you intimidated when you hear people saying ‘Here’s the new Tiger Woods’ or ‘will McIlroy break Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors’?
A: I don’t think you can think about it. It’s only people saying these things. It’s nice that people say he could be this or he could be that or he could win 20 major championships. But at the end of the day I’ve won one. I obviously want to add to that tally. But you can’t let what other people think of you influence what you have to do. You have to just go out there, work hard and believe in yourself. As long as you believe in yourself and believe that you’re doing the right things, that’s all you can really do.
Q: Fact is, for all the glory and the trophy, you just won US$1.44 million. How does that feel?
A: Thank you. Where’s the cheque? The truth is, I’m just happy with this trophy. It’s nice; we play for a lot of money week in week out. We’re very fortunate we can do that. But the thing about these major championships is the history, the prestige and just to be able to add your name to a list like Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer . . . you know, that’s the most satisfying thing about it.
Q: What did you think of the American galleries?
A: The support I got out there was absolutely incredible, for a foreigner to come over and play in front of these US crowds. I think every cloud has a silver lining and I think what happened at Augusta was a great thing for me in terms of support. It’s just been incredible the way people have supported me and cheered for me the whole week. It’s nice. To be able to have that when you come over here and feel like you’re one of their own is probably going to be pretty important in the next few years.
Q: They say you have the best swing in golf. How has it evolved?
A: I’ve been working with the same coach, Michael Bannon, for about 15 or 16 years. At this moment in time, we know where we want my golf swing to be. And we know the positions that it needs to be in for me to hit good shots. A lot of the early days was (sic) fundamentals, getting a good grip, good set-up, good alignment, everything like that. Building the base of the swing . . . And then from there, at an early age, I used to be very upright, my left arm used to be very, very high at the top. Then I remember at about 13 or 14, I was getting a very flat swing so I was trying to find a happy medium in there. It feels as we’ve got to the point now that I don’t feel like my swing has changed that much since then. I find just a few adjustments here and there.”