PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – It’s a little like how he came to appreciate beer.
That’s how Rory McIlroy describe the way he learned to like Pete Dye courses.
“An acquired taste,” McIlroy said Tuesday as he prepared to defend his title at The Players Championship. “They're like beer when you're younger. You sort of don't like it, but then you think it's cool to drink it, and then you sort of acquire a taste for it.”
McIlroy has made no secret of his frustration playing Dye courses early on his career, but he said that all changed at Whistling Straits in 2010, when he tied for third at the PGA Championship, finishing a shot out of a playoff, the year Martin Kaymer beat Bubba Watson in extra holes.
“I turned a corner,” McIlroy said. “I turned up there ... and I hated it.
“I really did not like it. I had to tell myself, `Look, you just need to like it for one week. Just get your head around liking this place for one week and embracing the fact that it's different and the fact that it's visually a little funky.’”
McIlroy’s self-talk was so convincing, he found himself over a 15-foot putt at the 72nd hole, with a birdie chance that would have put him in the playoff. McIlroy missed the putt, but he won a new outlook that would serve him well in the future.
“I never liked how [Dye] made you feel on the golf course, in terms of hiding things and angles,” McIlroy said. “It makes you a little bit uncomfortable, which is obviously his plan. He's a wonderful designer of golf courses, but that was the week where I had to embrace what Pete tried to put into his golf courses.”
Two years later, McIlroy went on to win a pair of big events on Dye designs, taking the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island and then a month later winning the BMW Championship, a FedExCup playoff event at Crooked Stick.
He claimed his third victory on a Dye course winning The Players last year.
“I’ve started to quite like them,” McIlroy said.
Only three other players have won more on Dye courses. Davis Love III has won seven times on Dye courses, Watson five times and Stewart Cink four times.