McIlroy stars in media center as he does on course

By Jason SobelAugust 5, 2014, 7:00 pm

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Rory McIlroy pauses at the top, just a brief hesitation, then delivers a meticulous measure that never veers from its intended target. In this forum, he is at once entertaining and awe-inspiring; those in attendance marveling at his ability to consistently perform with their collective glare wholly transfixed upon him.

There's no doubt that McIlroy is on his game right now. His interview game, that is.

As celebrated and formidable as McIlroy's on-course performance has appeared in recent weeks, he is similarly coming into his own in the media room, as comfortable with a camera lens and microphone in front of his face as he is with a pitching wedge in his hands. He is honest to a fault, equal parts charming and funny and engaging.

“Whenever I'm talking to you guys,” he told the media after his Sunday victory, “I want to try to be as open and as honest as possible and try and answer questions thoughtfully and articulately and just try and give you guys some good material.”

It sounds like a logical practice, especially when everything else is going in your favor. After all, there’s little to hide when your game consists of uncorking 350-yard drives down the fairway, piling up birdies and collecting trophies.

And yet, it's the very opposite of Tiger Woods' longtime strategy. Even when on top of his game, Woods has always taken pleasure in not just failing to disclose information, but actually crossing the lines to scramble our connection.



Perhaps that’s the most jarring repercussion of this transition from Tiger as the game’s best player to Rory holding that honor. While the former would only tell us what he wanted us to know, the latter grants us access to what we want to know. For example, while sitting next to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational trophy Sunday evening, McIlroy was asked how he spent the previous night.

He allowed that he watched the movie “Kick-Ass 2” – a fitting title considering his second consecutive win – and then shook his head and smiled while admitting he also caught some of the 1999 teen melodrama “Never Been Kissed.”

“That’s a little embarrassing,” he confessed.

But that’s just the thing. At least McIlroy does embarrassing, just like he offers admissions. It’s a stunning departure from the usual Woods rhetoric, which has rarely yielded a nugget which suggests he’s letting down his guard.

This isn't meant to only contrast these two players, though. Other top-ranked players have been similarly coy.

The man McIlroy unseated this week, Adam Scott, is as classy as they come, but he's not exactly the most forthright guy, earlier this year getting married before ever offering up that tidbit. When Martin Kaymer held that spot, he often looked like the kid in class silently praying that the teacher wouldn't call on him. Phil Mickelson has never ascended to that No. 1 position, but even his openness has always been tinged with agenda.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

There’s no rule which states professional golfers must always be honest – and certainly no rule which states they must divulge their innermost thoughts in the most introspective manner possible.

McIlroy has learned this the hard way. When he withdrew from last year’s Honda Classic, his management team quickly issued a statement blaming a bothersome wisdom tooth. That little half-truth reportedly led to the player splitting from his team soon afterward.

Compare that with how he handled the aftermath of his recent engagement breakoff with Caroline Wozniacki. He could have no-commented the story into irrelevance, but instead faced a firing squad of questions prior to the BMW PGA Championship and answered each one. Oh, and if there’s a lesson in here somewhere: He won the tournament.

In the interview room on Tuesday prior to this week’s PGA Championship, McIlroy wasn’t exceptionally candid. He was just himself.

On the increased media attention: “I try not to read too much of the stuff that's being written, because if you read everything that was being written, I'd turn up at the first tee on Thursday thinking I'd already won the tournament.”

On the secret to his power: “It's not like I'm going to get much bigger. I've put on three kilograms of muscle in the last eight weeks, so that definitely helps. I'm the heaviest I've ever been.”

On the current state of his game: “When I say I'm on my A-game, I think it's just everything; it just sort of feels comfortable. I feel like I drive the ball well, I hit fairways, I hit greens. I give myself plenty of chances for birdies. It's just, I play the right way.”

None of those responses led to any sort of epiphany, none of them caused observers to run toward social media with any breaking news.

But they did offer a little more insight into his thoughts and feelings, which is really all we can ask for.

That hasn’t always been the case for the game’s best player.

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Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

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Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

He picked up his clubs three times.

That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

Not that he was concerned, of course.

Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”