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Rory McIlroy ready to flip narrative at US Open

Rory McIlroy smiles
Rory McIlroy says he loves the challenge on playing on harder surfaces – something that used to scupper him - Getty Images/Andy Lyons

For Rory McIlroy, the browner the better. While the world No 3 would ecstatically accept a fifth major win at any course and in any conditions, there is a particular type of layout where he would ideally end his near decade-long barren run.

And Pinehurst, the venue for the US Open that begins on Thursday, just happens to fit the bill perfectly.

McIlroy’s four majors all came on saturated layouts where the hue was distinctly green. Back then, it seemed when it was solid underfoot and the ball bounced and ran, McIlroy was at a loss. It was a weakness he decided to face up to five years ago.

“After The Open Championship in 2019 I’d had a disappointing run in the majors, and I tried to change my mindset,” he told Telegraph Sport. “I remember writing in the little golf journal that I keep about trying to build my game to suit the toughest venues that we go to.

“Since then I’ve come to love it when it is fast and firm. It was last year at LACC [Los Angeles Country Club] and I really liked it. If you look at my results in the US Open and some of the toughest tests from 2019 until now I would say the US Open has arguably been my best major in the last few years.”

After missing three cuts in a row at America’s national championship from 2016, he has racked up five top 10s in succession, including fifth at Brookline two years ago and, as he pointed out, he was a one-shot second behind Wyndham Clark in Tinsel Town 12 months ago.

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland reacts after missing an eagle putt attempt on the first green during the final round of the 2023 US Open
McIlroy finished one shot behind Wyndham Clark in last year's US Open - Getty Images/Harry How

McIlroy’s belief is clearly that if he needs to change the script to ensure that he does not go the full 10 years without adding to his Big Four collection, then he may as well flip the narrative entirely.

“I’ve really started to enjoy that side of golf much more over the past few years since I’ve started to have more understanding of the game in general: course architecture, equipment stuff and becoming a student of the game again,” he told The Quadrilateral newsletter recently.

“It’s a challenge to me because I know I have that reputation as, ‘oh well he only won when things were soft’. I’d love to win a major championship or major championships where it was firm and fast. I prefer that style of golf now compared to 10 years ago.”

‘There’s a mental hurdle he has to jump’

Of course, there are other obstacles to clear and the obvious issue is the space between the ears as much as between tee and hole. Paul McGinley, his friend, countryman and former Ryder Cup captain, is brave enough to address the problem. “I think Rory’s better equipped than he’s ever been before… His chipping is fantastic. He’ll have an advantage around Pinehurst because of that ability,” McGinley said.

“I’ve said it many times – he’s a better golfer now than he was before. But, there’s no doubt, there’s a mental hurdle he has to jump to get over the line in majors again. That’s what is holding him back. The rest is all there.

“I don’t want to give the impression that Rory is mentally weak, he’s far from it. You look at his career in the last 10 years it’s phenomenal, it’s unmatched. Nobody comes close. But there is an element of doubt that’s crept in.

“He knows that. We all know it... And it’s not that he can’t do it, it’s not that he lacks guile, that he lacks heart, that he lacks the game. But that element of doubt has risen every year and it’s been validated by not getting over the line. It’s only a natural human emotion.”

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