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McIlroy & USGA Officials Discuss 2012 U.S. Open
Defending champion Rory McIlroy and various dignitaries with the United States Golf Association met with reporters for the annual U.S. Open media day on Monday. The second leg of golf's Grand Slam will be held June 14-17 at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.
The Northern Irishman, who turns 23 on May 4, dominated the field last year at Congressional Country Club after rebounding from his disappointment in the 2011 Masters - where he blew a four-shot lead heading into the final round with an 80 on Sunday. McIlroy fired rounds of 65, 66, 68 and 69 at Congressional to win the Open title by eight strokes.
McIlroy plans to use that U.S. Open experience to good effect in June. "If anything, [the 2011 win] gives me more confidence in myself that I can win on the biggest stage in golf," he said. "Knowing that I've done it before gives me confidence that I'll be able to do it again."
Here's what the young Ulsterman and the USGA officials had to say during an extensive Q&A with reporters.
JOE GOODE: Good morning. My name is Joe Goode, I'm managing director of communications for the U.S. Golf Association and I would like to welcome you to Media Day for the 112th U.S. Open Championship, here at the Olympic Club. It's been 14 years since the USGA last conducted a U.S. Open here at Olympic, and we are absolutely thrilled to be back. Over the course of our agenda this morning you'll hear from USGA president Glen Nager, who will make some opening remarks, will also share some exciting news happening around this year's U.S. Open broadcast and news that we actually shared a little bit earlier today with members of the media.
General Chairman, Steve Meeker, who is with us this morning, he's going to provide an update on sales, hospitality and other operational preparations for this year's Open. We also are pleased to have join us this morning USGA Vice President Tom O'Toole and Executive Director Mike Davis, they will overview our course setup philosophy, course features and preparations. And then of course you'll hear from our current defending champion, Rory McIlroy, and the preparations that he continues to make to defend his title. As I hope you all know, all of us at the USGA take great pleasure in having the opportunity to welcome the golf media and fans from around the world to Olympic this June. We're proud to showcase the beauty of the Lake Course and witness the game's best as they compete in golf's toughest test. Please watch. (Video played.)
JOE GOODE: It is my please your now to welcome and turn the program over to Glen Nager, President of the U.S. Golf Association.
GLEN NAGER: Thanks, Joe. And we thank you all for joining us here today, obviously it's through the media that we expose the public to the work of the United States Golf Association. So a pleasure for us to be back here at Olympic Club as we embark on our annual championship season. Over the course of the next five months we will have 13 individuals and two teams crowned USGA champions. Professional and amateur, men and women. And while none of those will be as visible as the winner here at Olympic Club with the U.S. Open, each of those champions will deserve our admiration for their accomplishments of being crowned a national champion by the USGA.
We're obviously very pleased to be at Olympic Club, it's the fifth time that we have been here. As you can see from the film, we have got some many underdog wins in the past and we'll see what happens in June. We're really delighted that Jack Fleck and Scott Simpson and Billy Casper are going to be here in person with us and we're hoping that Lee Janzen will as well, and in Lee's case, perhaps as a return competitor. As that opening video conveyed, Olympic has produced some really memorable moments of history for the game of golf and we fully expect that there will be another great chapter added to the history of golf in June.
The history of golf is very important to the USGA. Part of our mission is to preserve that history. And in that capacity, when we look at the last 50 years of the history of golf there's no bigger figure in the game of golf than Jack Nicklaus. Jack competed in nearly 70 USGA championships, winning eight. Including four U.S. Opens. And in celebration of the 50th anniversary of his first U.S. Open win at Oakmont in 1962, we have collaborated with Ross Greenburg Productions to produce the USGA's first film ever for network television, which is entitled, "The 1962 U.S. Open, Jack's First Major."
That one our documentary chronicles Mr. Nicklaus' win in 1962 at Oakmont, a win which set in motion not only the professional career of perhaps the greatest golfer of all time, but also ignited one of the greatest rivalries in sports between Mr. Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. The film, "Jack's First Major," will premier here in the United States on Sunday, June 17th at 2 p.m. eastern time on NBC prior to the network's final live round coverage of the U.S. Open and the film will make its international debut on Sunday, June 10th, on Sky Sports. And it is my pleasure to show you a brief trailer for your enjoyment. (Video played.)
GLEN NAGER: We believe this film masterfully tells the story of one of America's greatest champions as he turned from a successful amateur collegiate player to United States Open champion to the man who has a major championship record that remains unmatched in those 50 golden years and can't think of a better way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his win in 1962. Before concluding I would like to thank our volunteers. We have 1,200, over 1,200 volunteers who serve on USGA committees conduct state and local championships, and help us develop the next generation of golfers. And here at Olympic Club there are over 5,500 volunteers who are helping us prepare for the championship and conduct the championship. And to them we offer our sincere appreciation and thanks for helping us make the United States Open the greatest championship that we can make it.
Finally, we would like to express our appreciation to the Olympic Club itself, to its management, to its staff. This is obviously a great golf course and an impressive facility. But it's also the case that it takes a team to put on a championship, including a golf course staff who puts in enormous hours not only during the week of the championship, but in the years leading up to the championship. And to the Olympic Club we thank you for helping us prepare for and then conduct what we hope will be a quite memorable 112th U.S. Open Championship. With that, I would like to introduce Steve Meeker, Steve's the general chairman of the U.S. Open here at The Olympic Club.
STEVE MEEKER: Thank you, Glen. We're certainly honored and privileged to be hosting our fifth United States Open. There's only a handful of venues that have actually hosted five U.S. Opens. And to be included in that group we certainly feel proud and privileged. Let me mention a couple of points about the championship which you may find interesting. From an attendance standpoint we expect 33,500 spectators. That's compared to 28,500 in 1998.
We'll have 14,000 grandstand seats, which is about 5,000 more than we had in 1998. Thus, the higher attendance expectation. Peak attendance on the grounds on a daily basis will probably be about 45,000 people when you consider spectators plus vendors, plus volunteers and media. So the total attendance for the week will be somewhere in the area of 220,000 people. Ticket sales. At this point we are about 97 percent sold out. There are Friday Saturday and Sunday tickets that are completely sold out. There are a few tickets left for the Trophy Club and the Thursday championship day. But we expect by the end of by the beginning of the championship to be completely sold out for the 26th straight year.
Hospitality sales. All 39 corporate tents are now committed and sold. All hospitality packages in the clubhouse are committed and sold. There are a few tents remaining in the Champions Pavilion and a few tickets left in the Trophy Club. But from a hospitality standpoint this has been a very successful U.S. Open. Volunteers. As Glen mentioned, there are 52 or 5,300 volunteers. Incidentally, 1,200 of those volunteers are Olympic Club members and so that's a pretty impressive stat.
Lastly, as you may know, the Olympic Club is split and lies in two jurisdictions, San Francisco County and San Mateo County and so we wanted to thank the officials from both of those jurisdictions, Mayor Ed Lee from San Francisco and Martha Cohen from Mayor Ed Lee's office who has been very helpful in organizing and working with the city folks. And then lastly, Pat Martel, who is the city manager for the city of Daly City has been extremely helpful in working with that jurisdiction. The economic impact of the championship is somewhere between 140 and 170 million dollars. So obviously it's a very important event to northern California, to the northern California region. So again, thank you for being here and enjoy the day and enjoy the championship.
JOE GOODE: Thanks very much, Steve. To you and your team and to all the members here at the Olympic Club. It is my distinct pleasure no you to turn the program over to Tom O'Toole. Tom is a vice president on the Executive Committee and also is the chairman of the championship committee. I note with great admiration the fact that Tom has served as a rules official at more than 130 USGA championships including every U.S. Open since 1990. Tom O'Toole.
TOM O'TOOLE: Thank you, Joe. And more importantly, thank you to all the media here this morning to assist The Olympic Club to make this a very successful United States Open championship. It was a winter night in December of 1894 at the Calumet Club in New York City that the USGA was formed with primary missions of two: To write and interpret the rules and to conduct national championships.
118 years later it is at the very core of what the USGA is still about is national championships. Our 2012 championship season imminent, it begins with a team competition as Glen mentioned, the Curtis Cup, at the Nairn Club in Nairn, Scotland. Of course we kick off our individual championships here June 14th to the 17th at The Olympic Club for our 112th playing of the United States Open.
And as it bears repeating, the 8th USGA championship here at Olympic. Some of the other highlights for 2012 are the U.S. Women's Open returns to Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wisconsin, which was the site of the 1998 Women's Open championship which saw Se Ri Pak win in the 19 hole playoff over Duke University amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn. The U.S. Senior Open heads to Indianwood Golf and Country Club just outside Detroit where previously the 1989 and 1994 U.S. Women's Opens were contested.
The U.S. Junior Amateur Championship will be hosted at the Golf Club of New England, which is in Stratham, New Hampshire. It is historic because it is the first USGA championship ever to be conducted in the state of New Hampshire. And right down the road near Daly City, the U.S. Girls Junior Championship which will be conducted at the Lake Merced Golf Club, which was also the site of the 1990 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship and here with us today Donna Lowe, the general manager and her team and the president of the club, Carl Litz. To those, again, the USGA member clubs who stepped up to host a national championship, we say thank you.
And finally, in 2012 the U.S. Amateur Championship will be conducted at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver, Colorado. A prior host of seven USGA championships. Ones with champions with the names like Guldahl, Palmer, North, Nicklaus and Mickelson. Entries for the 2012 U.S. Open, we received 9,006 entries, just 80 entries short of our 2009 record, but 706 entries more than last year's championship.
USGA will conduct 109 local qualifying sites with the help of our state and regional golf associations, like the one here, the Northern California Golf Association. After local qualifying, we will conduct 13 sectional qualifying sites. Those sites will vie for about a hundred spots of our field of 156 to be here in June as we have currently about 54 exempt players into the field here at Olympic Club. On the golf course the last couple days with Mike Davis we have seen the changes that have been implemented. Mike will review those changes and the specifics of our 2012 U.S. Open setup. A setup with a strategy that we have been implementing for over three years.
That said, it's important we review with this group our U.S. Open course setup philosophy. In the fall of 2004 Walter Driver the then chair of the championship committee implemented a written U.S. Open setup philosophy which set forth several criterias in factor of how the U.S. Open should be conducted. Those criteria can be found at USOpen.com. This philosophy is the U.S. Open should be the most rigorous, the most difficult, yet fair, test in championship golf. An examination which tests both the player's physical capabilities, including all shot making. It also tests the player's mental capabilities and tenacity. The conclusion, we want well executed shots rewarded and poorly executed shots penalized.
An example of some of that key criteria or concepts are concepts like risk/reward. Certainly there will be risk and reward associated with the number 17th hole, which will be played in 2012 as a par 5. The concept of graduated rough, which was introduced by Mike Davis and Jim Hyler in 2006 at the Winged Foot Golf Club. That significant rough be adjacent to the fairways on short holes and less significant rough adjacent to the fairways on the long holes.
Finally, the concept of different teeing grounds will be used throughout the championships. You'll see a variety of holes and Mike will again make reference to that. For example, the par 3 third hole which I expect you will see from a variety of teeing grounds there. You can't think about golf course setup and this video that said it was the toughest test in championship golf as I look out and see Sandy Tatum here, who certainly was emblematic of that as president of the USGA and chairman of the championship committee.
We would be remiss if we did not publicly deliver some thank yous. To conduct the U.S. Open you need a committed and dedicated partner. In the Olympic Club we have had that partner. That partnership has led by general chairman Steve Meeker who you just heard from. Steve, you've led that with such great dedication and distinction, and from all of us at the USGA we say thank you. Representing the Olympic Club, Steve Meeker, General Chairman. Jay Fredricks, President.
From the U.S. Open Executive Committee, John Abendroth, Mark Avelar, Frank Clifford, Peter Emrich, Rich Guggenhime, Pat Murphy and Gary Phillips. From The Olympic Club staff, Greg DeRosa, General Manager, Mike Dewees, General Manager, Lake Course, Jay Bedsworth, City Club Manager, and Pat Finlen, Director of Golf Course Maintenance Operations. The USGA staff that we have on site, Reg Jones, Managing Director, U.S. Open Championship, Frank Bussey, Operations Director, John Palcoiz, Ray Straccia and their Operations Team, Danny Sink, Championship Director, Kevin Kristoff, Megan Miller, and Eric Steiner in the Championship Office. And finally, the golf course superintendent, the guy that Mike Davis and I have worked most closely with over the last three years, and Pat, would you please stand up Pat Finlen, the golf course superintendent has really accommodated our every request and for that I say thank you. (Applause.)
The bottom line is we simply could not pull off a magnitude of this production without their expertise and commitment. Reg, to you and your team, thank you. (Applause.) In closing, we're excited to be back, as Glen said, in San Francisco and here at The Olympic Club. And, yes, again, for our eighth USGA championship and our fifth United States Open championship. We believe this historic golf course with all of its implemented modifications has the challenge and rigor to test the greatest players in the world.
So in comparison, whether it was Jack fleck's playoff victory over Ben Hogan in 1955 or Billy Casper's back nine charge to a playoff to defeat Arnold Palmer in 1966 or Scott Simpson's come from behind one stroke victory over Tom Watson in 1987, or Lee Janzen's final round 68 resulting in a one shot win over Payne Stewart in 1998, it is our bet that 2012 version of the U.S. Open at Olympic Club will be just as memorable. Now at this time, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to bring to the microphone to discuss those points that I indicated he would make is the man leading what we like to call the new USGA, our executive director, just 14 months into the job, Mike Davis. (Applause.)
MIKE DAVIS: That you, good morning, everybody. Let me be the fourth from the USGA to say how delighted we are to be back here for our fifth National Open Championship. And we genuinely mean that one of my predecessors, Frank Hannigan, I've seen quoted a few times saying, something always magical happens when we come to the Olympic Club for a national championship.
Think back to the 1981 U.S. Amateur that a relative unknown Nathanial Crosby won. How that wonderful final match how he came back. You think about the past National Opens here that have been played and while you saw to know the film that in some ways you think, geez, you remember more about who didn't win, what great legend didn't win an Open here versus who did win. But it is really truly a wonderful place to have a national championship for a whole multitude of reasons and I'll talk a little bit about the golf course.
But San Francisco is a great host city. Olympic Club is a great club. And it's a club, folks, that is always giving back. It's not just about hosting U.S. Opens. It's hosted just recently a U.S. Boys Junior, hosted a U.S. Amateur. So it's always giving back to the game and this game I think in a lot of ways it's different than other sports. We're going to conduct seven, roughly 700 qualifiers for our 13 national championships this year and virtually all those golf courses give up their facilities for a day to allow those qualifiers to go on. I mean that's just, it's a wonderful statement about how golfers are always giving back to the game. And that's just one small example of what the game's about.
I'm going to talk a little bit today before we hear from our defending champion, Rory McIlroy, about the golf course and some of its setup and some of our thoughts on how it might play. I guess to start out with the Olympic Club's almost a hundred years old. It opened in 1919, architect named Sam Whiting did it and if you actually get a chance to go down in the locker room, there's some great old photos, aerial photos of the golf course and I was actually looking at them this morning and it's amazing how little the Lake Course has actually changed over the years. Other than the 8th hole which you'll see is a new par 3 that changed, I'll talk about it a little bit, it's basically the same course.
And when you look at that aerial, while there may have not been as many trees back then as now, it really is, it's amazing how much it has stood the test of time. The golf course itself, you probably saw this in your packet of information you got, we will play it at 7170 yards and it's a par 70. That by U.S. Open standards is actually relatively short. It's not as short as next year's open at Merion, which will be slightly under 7000 yards, but by U.S. Open standards it's short and I'm going to touch on this later, but it will be a firm and fast golf course, so length won't necessarily be the issue this year, but it is, it's I think on the scorecard 373 yards longer than the 1998 U.S. Open. And that's back when they still played wound balls. But most of that length was really added for a couple different reasons:
One, to put a few of the drive zones back into play. Perfect example of that is the 6th hole where the fairway bunker that's been there I doubt that fairway bunker was even in play for the '55 open. And it is definitely in play for this year's open. So a little longer there. But I would say another big reason is that by having some longer tees on holes, it gives us some flexibility the week of to mix and match. So I doubt when you look at any given day you will ever see us play it at 7170. I think it's always going to be shorter than that. But that's what some of these new teeing grounds have been.
In terms of the test of golf, you know, it's really interesting, I know one of the thugs I love to do in my mind is say well how is Olympic Club going to play relative to other U.S. Opens. How is it going to play relative to other majors? And I think that first of all I am incredibly and we, I know Tom feels this way too, are incredibly bullish on how good a test we think this is going to be. I think it's really going to be outstanding. When you think of the Olympic Club, I think the first thing that comes to mind is this is really going to be a great shot-maker's course. By that, I mean somebody who is able to control his ball is going to have a real advantage here. Now that's obviously true at any U.S. Open, it's true at any tournament, whether it is your member/guest or a city championship. But in particular here it really helps to be able to maneuver your ball both right to left and left to right.
I think that and these days where the modern ball really is going a bit straighter than the old days, I think what's interesting about that is, is that the players who are able to curve it both ways, and mind you there isn't one player in this field of 156 that can't curve it both ways, the trick is, can they do it when it counts, are they comfortable moving it both ways when it counts. And a straight ball will never hurt you, but here at Olympic Club being able to curve it one way or another really can benefit you.
Some of these fairways that are out there, there's I think seven of the 14 holes dogleg. So any time you have a dogleg it helps to be able to curve the ball, but here at Olympic Club it even goes a step further. Some of these doglegs you got it maybe moving right to left but then the fairway cants left to right or vice versa and that happens on a number of holes out here. So if you're trying to play a fade, for example, assuming your you're a right handed player, off the tee at number 4, good luck at trying to keep it in the fairway. Versus if you're trying to play draw for a right handed player, off the 5th tee, again, good luck trying to keep it in the fairway.
So I think that it's going to be a wonderful test in terms of just the ability to maneuver your ball, sometimes we get wind here at Olympic Club and any time you introduce wind into it, now the all of a sudden it not only affects the yardage but they have to really start thinking more about what kind of flight they're going to have, trajectory of their golf ball. So I go back to thinking that the person who is going to have an advantage here at Olympic Club is truly somebody that can comfortably maneuver their ball. And I don't think this year there's an advantage.
For instance, last year, I made the comment that I thought that Congressional would favor a long ball hitter that hit it high. Well look at Rory McIlroy. This year I could see a short ball hitter winning, a long ball hitter or somebody in between. It's just, can you, can you maneuver it around. So some other things that make Olympic Club a unique and very good test of golf is the fact that you have got so many unlevel lies out there. I think it's eight of the 14 holes with approach shots you're playing from an uphill, downhill, side-hill line and even for the world's best that tests you more.
There's a lot of elevation changes out at Olympic Club and that too tests the best players. Because it's much easier to hit a level shot than trying to hit uphill, downhill and trying to figure out what your golf ball's going to do. Another thing that if at least for those of us involved in golf course setup, when you come to coastal California in the summer, I mean I could just lick my chops because we know, and I hate to knock on wood but we're going to be able to get a firm golf course. And that in championship golf means everything.
It's all about in the case of firmness what happens after your ball lands. So if you're trying to keep a ball in the drive zone, you got to think, what's going to happen when my ball lands. If it particularly if it's a dogleg or a fairway that cants one way or another. Another thing when it's firm is, you don't just fire at every target, you've got to think about what happens after your ball lands and some of these greens while there's not a lot of big undulations here at Olympic Club, all these greens seem to have a pitch to them and at these speeds and firmness, when the ball hits, it is going to go somewhere. So that's all part of your course strategy and really and your game plan playing.
Front nine versus back nine. I think this is a very unique U.S. Open in that the sense that looking back at past Opens usually you see a nice kind of cadence to U.S. Opens and how they play, you might have a few tough holes and a few holes you can catch up and then a few more tough holes. Well here at Olympic Club, this absolutely is going to be the hardest start for any U.S. Open I can think of. The first six holes in particular, if you can get through those 1 or 2 over par, I can promise you you're going to be beating most of the rest of the field. So the front nine is going to be a par 34, back nine par 36. Now that's a little bit different because we flipped the par on holes 1 and 17 and I'll talk to you shortly about that.
So if you, when you're out today playing the golf course, look at those first six holes, because it's not only the first hole which, by the way, Number 1 and number 17 and the last few U.S. Opens essentially played to a 4.7. So in some ways, who cares what we call the par, but I'll talk to you a little bit about why we did make that change. But then you look at how tough hole 2 has always played. 3 is definitely going to be the hardest par 3 on the course. 4 and 5 are those two holes that have a lot of elevation change where the fairway cants the opposite direction of the dogleg. And then 6 there's a new tee back there that really makes it a great driving hole.
So you have got that incredibly hard start, which mentally it will be interesting to see how the players actually deal with that. Because if you get a few over par, some players may get a little more upset than others. And, but the neat thing that you've got on the back nine and particularly with the last five holes, is there's a real chance to make up strokes on par. In theory, I suppose that those last four, excuse me, five holes, could be played with something like a pitching wedge, 9 iron, sand wedge, as your approach shot. And you know when we get, when you see this level of elite player with those clubs in their hand, they absolutely can score.
So I think that it's going to be a really intriguing Open from that respect that you're going to see them beat up at the beginning and then the chance to catch up at the end. Holes to watch. I think that my sense is that the 16th and 17th holes back to back par 5s, very late in the round, are really going to be the swing holes for the championships. I think that for 16 has always been a long continuing dogleg left. It still will be. We have made it longer and one of the reasons we did that is just we have felt like we wanted at least two of the four days of the championship to really insure that this is a three shot hole. That if you miss one of those shots it's going to be hard to pick up or recover from that shot. So I think that it's, it will really test their will.
Then you get to 17, and that's the one we talked about why we flipped the par on 1 and 17. Well, it's not as if the last four U.S. Opens were wrong on having it a long hard par 4. But I think this time we wanted to try something a little bit different and say, can we make a short par 5 that is truly risk/reward. That makes the player think off the tee, that makes him execute off the tee and then when they're in the drive zone, they have got to think about, do I want to go for it or not. So when you're out there today, you'll see that we put a closely mown area to the right of the green and behind it. And this happens to be the 17th green, the most, I think, the most severe on the course. The toughest on the course. There's a real hard pitch from back left to front right. So the bail out has always kind of been, well miss it to the right of the green and you'll have an uphill lie out of rough.
Well now with closely mown, the ball, gravity's just going to take place and let it roll down. So I hope it ends up being a very interesting penultimate hole and I think it probably will be. One of the things we seem to get asked is what's the difference between this U.S. Open and the last time we have had a U.S. Open here. And I just mention that there is a difference in length of the golf course, there's eight new teeing grounds, but again, it wasn't all just about trying to get more length, it was really looking at each hole and saying, what can we do here to make it more interesting, give us flexibility, maybe bring certain strategic architectural features back in play.
The 8th hole, I mentioned this already, now that is a brand new hole. Bill Love, actually sitting where I know you're here, in the front row here - has been working with the club, is its architect for several years now and has done just a wonderful job and when you go out and look at this 8th hole you will think that that golf hole has been here for the last, whatever, 90 years. It fits. It's a wonderful hole. And one of the great by products for the U.S. Open is the fact that we're going to literally thousands of people are going to be able to watch this hole on the hillside, they're going to be able to see the green at 7th tee shots at 9. So it's turned into to be the worst golf hole in terms of spectator viewing and it's gone into maybe the best hole. So I think that's a, that's neat for the U.S. Open.
Closely-mown areas. This is another thing that's different for this particular Open versus the last four. That seven of the 18 greens you're going see that we shaved the sides around the greens and the whole reason for that is we wanted to give the players some different types of shots, we wanted in some cases you'll see putting, some cases bump and run, some cases pitching. And you'll also see that in this case and by the way, today the length of cut is longer than what you ultimately will see. But it, gravity will really take place. So with that, I'm going to I have a few other things to say, but we have got Rory McIlroy on the phone, so as soon as he's done I'll come back and make a few closing remarks and we'll go from there. So Joe, turn it over to you.
JOE GOODE: Thanks, Mike. And as Mike said, we'll come back to Mike and Glen and Tom and Steve at the end for a Q&A. We would like to transition and stay on schedule and begin a brief question and answer session with our 2011 U.S. Open champion, Rory McIlroy, who we have on the phone. I'd like to transition our program with a brief question and answer session with our 2011 U.S. Open Champion, Rory McIlroy. At age 22, Rory became the youngest U.S. Open winner in nearly a century, with a record breaking performance at Congressional Country Club. He posted all four rounds in the 60s to break the 72 hole scoring mark with a 268 total, and in the process broke or tied 12 U.S. Open records. His eight stroke victory made him the second consecutive U.S. Open champion to come from Northern Ireland.
Rory, who has had four top three finishes in major championship play, achieved the No. 1 spot in the World Golf Rankings earlier this year. Rory joins us today from Florida, where he will shortly depart to play in the Wells Fargo Championship in North Carolina. We appreciate him taking time from his playing schedule to join us today. Just a little bit of housekeeping here, I will moderate the Q&A session here, taking questions both here in the room and also our members of the media that are joining us by phone. Please wait until I call on you to ask a question and we'll get a microphone to you so Rory can hear the question. Who would like to start us off?
Q. I don't know if you played Olympic Club, but how soon do you start trying to familiarize yourself with the course before you actually come out and play it?
RORY MCILROY: No, I haven't played Olympic Club yet. But I feel like I just played a practice round listening to Mike there. (Laughter.) But I'll go up there the week before and familiarize myself with the place. From what I've heard it's a really good setup and I know they have made a few changes to it this year for the U.S. Open, but I'm excited to get up there and see what it's like.
Q. We haven't had a U.S. Open repeat champion since 1989. Why do you think that is and what do you plan on doing to repeat?
RORY MCILROY: Not sure. I think it was, was it Curtis Strange that won back to back? I don't know, because this will be my fourth U.S. Open and every time I feel like Bethpage in 2009 and Congressional last year were pretty similar, just because it was pretty wet and the course played pretty soft. And I'm expecting this year to maybe be a little similar to Pebble in terms of that it will be fast and running and it will be, it won't necessarily be a long ball hitter that will play well there, you just really need to control your ball. So I don't know why. It's the toughest test that we face all year and I'm not sure why there hasn't been a repeat champion, but obviously I'm going to try my hardest to make that happen this year.
Q. Given all the low numbers last year, including your record low score, the USGA's always tried to make this the toughest test, what are you expecting as far as a level of toughness of this course here this year?
RORY MCILROY: I think the only thing that made the scores so low at Congressional last year was the fact that they just got so much rain beforehand and they were never able to dry the course out the way they would like. So I attribute that to the numbers that were shot. I think that if the weather permits this year in San Francisco, we'll get the golf course firm and fast and it will be tricky. You'll really have to think about where you need to land your ball on the fairways and on the greens and I'm expecting it to be a really tough and tricky test this year where something around even par will win most U.S. Opens, you know, something around even par isn't going to be too far away. Last year was a little bit of an exception, but I think that it will go, that this year, if you do, if you shoot four 70's you'll have a great chance.
Q. You were obviously very established as an elite player before last year's U.S. Open, but how much did it change your life to win a major and how did it maybe change the way others viewed you or you viewed your own career to have your first major?
RORY MCILROY: For sure. I think winning a major championship is a life changing experience. You always dream and hope one day that you'll be able to do it and to make that dream become a reality is something that was very special and it puts you among an elite group of players that can call themselves major champions. So people always view you a little differently and maybe you gain a little bit of respect from guys that have won majors that you've joined the club. But, yeah, if anything it just gives me more confidence in myself knowing that I can win on the biggest stage in golf and knowing that I've done it before that will give me confidence to think that I'll be able to do it again.
Q. Curious how things have gone for you with working on your game since the Masters. Obviously the result wasn't what you wanted maybe even a bit of a shock. Can you just talk about where you are right now.
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, it wasn't my definitely wasn't the result that I wanted at the Masters. I took a couple weeks off back in Europe and spent some time with my girlfriend and I've come back to the states last week and did some really good work in Florida with my coach, fitness coach, and really put in some good work. And I just played a practice round today at Quail Hollow and the game feels really good. So there's just a couple of different things that I need to work on since Augusta that probably prevented me from playing my best golf or playing the way I wanted to. But I feel like that's back on the right track and I feel like I'm getting more comfortable with it and looking forward to getting back and playing some competitive golf this week.
Q. Having won a major now, how does that change your preparation and your expectations coming into another major, especially this one as the defending champ?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, I think that my going into majors as a major champion it's definitely heightened your expectation levels a little bit. Maybe that was something that I maybe didn't control quite so well at the Masters a few weeks ago, but going back to defend my title in San Francisco will be, it will be a great experience for me and something I'm really looking forward to. So, yeah, just you try to approach it like you would any other event, just prepare as best you can and go out there and try and play the golf that you know you're capable of.
Q. You had three major champions from Northern Ireland in the stretch of a few months. What's it been like for the country and you and the other two guys, Graeme and Darren?
RORY MCILROY: It's been good. I think it's really boosted interest in the game back home, not that it really needed boosting, it's a very popular game in Ireland. And it's very accessible to a lot of people. But I think that especially for young kids to watch what we have done, they will obviously want to try and emulate that and it maybe gives them the extra motivation knowing that we can come from a small country like that and do so well in this game and they're probably thinking, why can't we do the same. So I think it's really, you know, if anything, it's really put belief into the young players in Ireland and they think that they can go on and do the same things that we have.
Q. You touched on this just a bit, but given everything you went through with last year's Masters then going on to win the U.S. Open. Is there more pressure in that U.S. Open or this year's open because you're the defending champ?
RORY MCILROY: I'm not sure. I think that probably more pressure going into last year to prove myself. I really wanted to put things right and make amends for what happened at Augusta and obviously I was able to do that. And I feel like going in this year I, you know, I don't really have anything to prove. I want to, I feel like I'm coming back to defend my title as a more established player, I'm coming back as a major champion and maybe expectations are a little higher. So it's tough to say which one I felt more pressure coming into. But I think the thing about coming back this year to San Francisco is that I'm just excited to go back as the defending champion and really looking forward to that.
Q. You talked about the explosiveness in your game and winging at Quail Hollow two or three years ago and then obviously in winning the U.S. Open last summer, I was just wondering, what have you been able to figure out as far as being able to tap into that explosiveness, because when you find that extra gear, no one can really stay with you. But it seems to be a question of when and how often you can find it.
RORY MCILROY: Well I wish I knew the answer to that, to be honest. Yeah, it seems to happen a few times a year and it's nice, it would be nice to know when it was going to happen or how often, but you really don't know these things. All you can do is work hard and practice. And there is going to be times where you catch fire and you maybe play a 36 hole stretch and play it in 15 under or something like that, but I don't know, I'm just glad that it happened once or twice a year and I feel like the rest of my game is getting better, so I'm able to put myself in contention more often and be able to win with maybe not having that explosiveness on any given week. So I think that's the real key to becoming a better player for me.
Q. You said you expected conditions sort of similar to Pebble. You missed the cut at Pebble two years ago, have you learned to play those conditions better or is the fact that a guy from Northern Ireland won that tournament playing in those conditions means something to you?
RORY MCILROY: Yeah, at that point a couple years ago I wasn't playing so well, so it was, it wasn't just the conditions that really got the better of me that week, it was just more I wasn't in control of my golf ball. But I'll make sure that I'll do everything I can to go into that tournament ready to play and as fresh as I can be and, yeah, you just really have to mentally prepare yourself for the type of golf that you're going to have to play that week. But that all depends on the conditions and you see how those conditions are during that week. But, yeah, I expect it to play pretty similar to Pebble and you just got to adapt your game to that. That's what the best players can do, they can adapt to all different conditions and that's what I'll have to do to hopefully try and win more major championships.
Q. Before the Masters there was this pre, I guess, media hype here about matching you and Tiger and being the eyes all on you two and obviously things didn't work out for either one of you that well in the Masters, but do you expect to have that dynamic again where you're going to be always that guy with Tiger that, rut next Tiger, are you going to be compared constantly with him and that kind of idea?
RORY MCILROY: I hope so. I would like to, because if I'm being compared to him I'm doing something right. So, yeah, I knew there was a lot of hype pre Masters about it was a horse race or whatever, and it was a two horse race for 40th. I think we both tied in 40th place. So it wasn't our best week, but hopefully you go into the next major and we both play a little bit better and maybe it would be great to get in contention on Sunday and if he's there as well it would be great. So, but, but, yeah it's a nice position to be in to be compared to him and to be mentioned in the same sentence, I'm definitely not complaining about that.
JOE GOODE: On behalf of the USGA, Rory, thanks for joining us today, we wish you nothing but the best this week in New York, and of course defending your U.S. Open title here at Olympic Club in June.
RORY MCILROY: Thank you very much.
JOE GOODE: Very good. With this we'll bring Mike Davis back up and complete his formal overview of the course setup and then we will open up for Q&A with our principles here today.
MIKE DAVIS: Okay. Very briefly I was just talking about some of the differences from 1998 to 2012. Another thing I think that really will make a difference this time is that the Olympic Club, which by the way had nothing to do with the U.S. Open, rebuilt all 18 of its greens on the Lake Course. So now you have got a hybrid bent grass as opposed to poa annua. And I think that the end result from that for a U.S. Open means that these greens even into the afternoon hours are going to be very smooth. And I truly believe that relative to the past four U.S. Opens that were played on poa annua, that as I think we all know, that in the afternoon, it tends to get bumpy because it grows, because there's different strains of poa annua in there, that this year I genuinely think you will see more putts made in this U.S. Open than in past U.S. Opens here. Just the nature of the grass.
Tee to green, I think this will be every bit the test that they have seen, whether it's 1955, '66, '87, or '98, it will be a great test of golf and on the greens it will be wonderful too, but just because they are smoother, they will make more putts. I'm quite certain. One of the things that's come up that I've almost been surprised how much activity or discussion there's been, is that just last week we put in a new bunker that you will see on the 17th hole. That is a temporary bunker and the reason we did that is that where that bunker sits, which is short right of the green maybe 40, 50 yards on the right side is that when we decided to put closely mown to the right of the green and behind the green, we had to swing the fairway out beginning 40, 50 yards short.
So we actually widened the fairway substantially. And when we came back in February, we looked at that area that used to be rough, that was rough for the members, rough for past U.S. Opens and said, oh no, given the fact that this green slopes left to right, front to back or back to front, that this is a great lay-up area now short right of the green where they can pitch back in from a relatively flat lie. So that's the reason for the bunker, as we have told the club, we paid for it to go in and we will pay for it to go out post U.S. Open and because it probably, it makes all the sense in the world in terms of having testing the best players when there is, when that would have been fairway and Bill Love our architect was the one who designed it and put it in and I happen to think he did a wonderful job, but it's assuming the club puts everything back to rough afterwards, it may not make sense.
As far as golf course setup specs, yesterday and then tomorrow morning we're looking at the final kind of adjustments for grass heights. We're going hole by hole and doing some preliminary hole locations. The greens will be running somewhere between 11 1/2 and 12 and a half for this U.S. Open, which is really the speed they have run I believe for the last few U.S. Opens that have been here. So nothing different in speed this go round versus previous times. Tom O'Toole mentioned that we will graduate the rough, so which, by the way, that graduated rough really works well when you have firm conditions. Because what it really does is allow players when they get into the closer in rough, to show their shot making skills and to go for the green. But when you've got firm greens, you've really got to think about what, how far your ball's going to come out, fact that it won't have as much spin on it and where it has to land to hopefully get on the green.
Then in closing, what I will tell you is that when we get back here the week before the U.S. Open, that, we're really in a mode of just looking at grass heights then as looking at the rough saying, is it too high, is it too low, looking at the closely mowns and if they need adjustment, and you will see that there are some closely mowns that you will play today that will actually going to be adjusted between now and the next six weeks. Behind No. 1 green is an example that we are expanding that so that it will actually go further back. So we are very, very, I guess, in conclusion, in closing remarks here, we're very excited about this year's U.S. Open. To come to San Francisco as I said is just, there's something always magical that comes along with that.
And I would be remiss if I didn't thank a few people too. Certainly the officials at the club, we thank you for again hosting us. And Tom O'Toole did mention Pat Finlen and I've gone on record many times in the past saying it's hard to say the most important person at one of these big championships, but it's hard to believe that it wouldn't be the golf course superintendent and Pat's just been an absolute delight to work with and I, we worked together at the U.S. Amateur here a few years ago and Pat, thank you for all you and your staff have done. Last thing, there are two people in the room that I couldn't not stand up here and mention and as far as I'm concerned most of you are from northern California, you know golf, and I consider these two individuals living legends, they're two past USGA presidents and they're Grant Spaeth and Sandy Tatum and if maybe gents, could you just raise your hands or stand up. (Applause.)
They did so many wonderful things for the USGA in serving their terms. They both were chairmen of the championship committee and both very involved with past U.S. Opens here at Olympic Club and they have done so much for golf too. So Sandy, Grant, great to have you here and thanks again for all your support. And with that I'm going to turn it back over to Joe for some Q&A.
JOE GOODE: Great, thanks, Mike. We'll come back to Mike, Glen, Tom and Steve for some Q&A. Once again housekeeping, just wait for a microphone and let us know where you're from and we'll try to answer your questions as best that we can. I think we can go for another 10 minutes or so. So who wants to start us off?
Q. Can the players wear metal spikes if they want to?
TOM O'TOOLE: Yes, they can.
Q. Mike, you kind of a moot point now that Ernie Els climbed to number 40 in the rankings but curious had you guys started discussing the possibility of a special exemption for him and is that on the table at all for Lee Janzen or any other players heading into the U.S. Open?
MIKE DAVIS: Good question. I'm actually going to let Tom O'Toole, our chairman of the championship committee answer that one.
TOM O'TOOLE: We think our exemption categories speak for themselves. And since 1950, '51 we have employed the concept of special exemptions. We generally make that review just before the occurrence of sectional qualifying because it could impact some player that may or may not be in that field. I can tell you that that will be a process that we employ between now and that time for sectional qualifying, I can tell you that at this juncture and again in light of your comments about Mr. Els, I don't think we anticipate extending any other exemptions, but we'll certainly review that all the way up to that time.
Q. A couple comparisons been made between here at Olympic Club and Pebble Beach. Do you see those two courses playing out the same way?
MIKE DAVIS: Good question, comparison between Pebble Beach and here. In lot of ways, yes, you think about Pebble Beach and you think that every time we have had a U.S. Open there going back to the '72 U.S. Open, it's been firm, fast conditions, wind has played a big part of it. Wind does not play as big a part of a U.S. Open here at Olympic Club. But it's a dry, firm, fast U.S. Open. So it's a little bit different, but both golf courses have remarkably small greens. And when you take small greens and you make them firm, that really makes for a hard test. These greens here at Olympic Club aren't as small as Pebble Beach's greens, but they play very small. So I mean it goes back to my comment about shot making, that you really have to think if you're not going to hit a green you're coming out of the rough, where do you want to miss it. There's a lot of course strategy to both golf courses because they are firm and fast.
Q. Mike, obviously a lot of attention in '98 was placed on the 18th green and how that affected the tournament. And as we know it's been changed a couple times since then. What do you expect from that green this time? How do you think it will play in this tournament?
MIKE DAVIS: Well it's interesting. Actually, if you were asking this 24 hours later I would have a better answer for you. But we're going to go out tomorrow like we did on the front nine yesterday afternoon and really closely survey every green and we do that with a digital level to look at percent grades. But here's the answer I would give: 18 is going to play wonderful just the way it has in the past four U.S. Opens. It's a short hole, it's narrow off the tee, just like it's always been, it's a semi blind tee shot, just like it's always been. The green definitely has pitch back to front. And I think with these current speeds, what the new green has is a wonderful wonderful blend of different hole locations and Bill Love I think did at least walking on it without studying it in depth, but just did a great job and I think that it will, in a lot of ways it's going to play the way it's always played from the standpoint of when you're hitting that little wedge shot, 9 iron shot into the green, you want to stay below the hole. And that's really always been the strategy of the 18th here at Olympic Club.
Q. When you were here at Pebble Beach we asked you the question about the run off spot to the left of 14 and how you expected that to be a pivotal part of a tournament and it was. Are you expecting the same kind of result for 17?
MIKE DAVIS: Very good question. Let me give that some thought. 17 was put in because for a slightly different reason. 17 here was put in to truly make it a risk/reward hole. When you're back there, if you're in the fairway saying, okay, I've got 200 I've got 225 into a green uphill, probably the toughest green on the, with that length of shot to hit, the idea was, if you bailed right, you're going to have a tough up and down. And you may from that right side, if it rolls down into the trees, you may have to hit a little bump and run shot or create some shot. If you don't get it up the hill, guess what, it's coming back to you. That's why it was done there.
In the case of 14 at Pebble, that was really done because in previous U.S. Opens that tree, that live oak left of the green, when you get your self under there, so many times you're in this thick rough and you had no shot because you were trying to hit to this little table top area with branches in front of you and the thought was I might add incorrectly so, that the idea was that well at least you can hit a little bump and run shot. But I think as we saw, looking back on it, that that was one I think in hindsight that we would say, that didn't work so well. So good question though.
Q. In talking to P.J. Boatwright way become before the '87 Open he said the reason for the change from a five to four to 17 was to put a long iron in the hands of the players. They didn't want them to close pitching wedge, pitching wedge, pitching wedge. So can you talk about, in light of the fact that 14 can play shorter, 15 can be almost a scoring club at this length plus the possibility of players hitting shorter clubs on the last five holes, what created the change in saying, that's okay, among the USGA?
MIKE DAVIS: That's another very, very good question. In fact that point you just made was one when we were contemplating this Grant Spaeth brought up a saying of, there's a lot of history to this, the last four U.S. Opens, that being a par 4. But I really do think it got back to that green not being receptive, I mean I think from a design stand point the players would agree, that making that a long par 4, trying to, from a side hill, uphill lie, and that green sits way up in the air, so your ball instead of coming in like this, is coming in at more of a horizontal angle, it was just always hard and I think that on balance we said, you know what, if there's a way that we can make this a short risk/reward 5 that gives the player the options, we'll do it.
Everybody in this room knows that par is just a number. At the end of the day we're going to give the trophy out to the low score for 72 holes. But it's a mental thing. For some reason if it's a par 4, they feel like they have got to go for it. As a par 5, they may say, you know what, I'm going to lay back, I'm going see if I can get it up and down or worst case get it up and down in three and make my par and go off. So I'm not sure there's a right or wrong to it. The other thing that played into it is that first hole, I mean I can remember watching the '87 U.S. Open on TV, it played almost like a par 4 it's so firm and fast. I can remember that final round Tom Watson, if memory serves me, hit like a 6 or 7 iron in on his second shot.
So the first green, the first green allows for that, that you can land 30, 40 yards short of the green and bounce it in. Versus 17, you couldn't. So that's a little bit of the background, but as I said earlier, that is not to say that what happened in '55, '66, '87 and '98 was wrong, it's just, it's different.
Q. About 18. What do you think of that as a finishing hole? It seems very unique to have potentially the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open decided on a 344 yard par 4. What are your thoughts, as much as 16 and 17 might be swing holes, the reality is a lot of times people aren't going to remember what happened on the last hole.
MIKE DAVIS: Right. Interesting in the sense that when you think, think about every place that we go in the so called rota with U.S. Opens, the 18th holes are very, very different. I think of Winged Foot and Oakmont are two incredibly hard, I mean courses with tough par 4 finishing holes. Where you have to drive it well, long second shot. You look at Pebble Beach with that wonderful 18th risk/reward hole now along the Pacific. And I just view this as kind of like an Inverness at 18. It's a short par 4 with a treacherous green. And there's nothing wrong with that. And history would tell you, look back at what Hogan did on that hole in '55. What Palmer did. So just because it's short doesn't mean that it's easy. So I think it's unique and it's one of the great things about taking the U.S. Opens to different places is that you get to see and experience a lot of different architecture.
Q. Not sure this is a question for the panel or perhaps Sandy Tatum, but trying to imagine an Open that's been held anywhere for four or five times where virtually everybody who won was not expected to win at that site. There was comparison to Pebble Beach, but Nicklaus, Watson and woods all won there and they never won here. Is there something about Olympic Club or the makeup of the guys that of won it here that's created that?
MIKE DAVIS: Here's the way I would answer that. Look at the look at the final leaderboards. Everyone of those past four Opens. And look at how many great players were involved. Go back and look at the top whatever, from '55, from '66. It's not as if we just happened to get a legend that maybe didn't win, but beyond the we all know that Hogan didn't beat fleck, but look at who else was in there. It was kind of a who's who. So I think this is a marvelous test of golf and that at the end of the day, we can only do and the club the host venue can only present it and then it's up to the 156 players to figure out who is the best that week and can get it in the jar in the least amount of strokes.
Q. What will be the determining factor in playing 16 at its full length and there's a possibility that it could be at its full length for the final round?
MIKE DAVIS: Well, Tom O'Toole and I will really make that decision the week of, in fact a lot of times we'll look at weather reports and kind of determine that right beforehand. But I would envision us probably playing that back a couple days, but I don't know what days. But one of the things we learned from the U.S. Amateur here is that when you play that hole up, it's marvelous. Watching those amateurs trying to almost snap hook it around the corner to try to get there in two and then snap hook their second one, that was great fun. And what happens is that if they don't snap hook it, guess what? It's going into the right woods. So I think the hole will play marvelous as a long par 5, but I think it also will, when we decide not to go to the back tee it will play a really neat hole from up a tee or two.
JOE GOODE: I want to keep us on schedule. This concludes the formal portion of our program and we appreciate your attendance and would like to remind you and invite you to the garden court for lunch and for those that are playing golf enjoy your round and your test today. And we look forward hosting you all in June for the 2012 U.S. Open. Thank you.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.
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