Rory McIlroy is trying to recapture his free-swinging style from a decade ago that made him a major champion and snap a seven-year major win drought at the US Open.
The 32-year-old from Northern Ireland won his first major at the 2011 US Open at Congressional and seeks that form again when he tees off Thursday afternoon at Torrey Pines.
“I’m feeling good about where my game is,” McIlroy said. “It’s about going out there and playing as free as I can and having that mentality I had as a 22-year-old and just trying to get into that mindset.”
World number 11 McIlroy ended an 18-month win drought last month at Quail Hollow but hasn’t won a major since the 2014 PGA Championship.
“I won a tournament four or five weeks ago, so it’s there,” McIlroy said. “The technical and mechanical parts of it are all there. It’s just a matter of going out in a US Open setting and just trusting what I’ve been doing in practice.”
McIlroy had a coaching session last week, his mind more a concern than anything physical.
“That gets more into the mental side of things and just being really clear and committed… being as free on the course as I am on the range,” he said.
“That’s the big challenge, but in terms of where everything’s heading, it’s definitely in the right direction.”
The four-time major winner said he played better finishing 18th at Memorial than winning a month earlier, improving each week. But he has struggled to break 70 in first rounds at majors.
“Probably just putting a little too much pressure on myself, playing too carefully, being a little tentative,” McIlroy said.
The solution, McIlroy says, is being “indifferent” which he defined as “not putting myself under pressure that I have to care.”
He has found it easy to play relaxed after a poor start but says, “It’s just a matter of freewheeling from the Thursday and not the Friday.”
McIlroy missed the cut at this year’s Masters while in a swing transition and shared 49th in last month’s PGA, struggling in brisk winds.
“Since then, I’ve changed my driver setup a little bit, and I feel a lot more comfortable,” McIlroy said.
McIlroy plays the first two rounds alongside England’s Justin Rose and US world number one Dustin Johnson.
‘Boring’ at the top
McIlroy met US Women’s Open winner Yuka Saso on Tuesday and told the Filipino teen, who modeled her swing on his, to write down her thoughts after practices and prepare for consistency and success to be boring.
“It was cool to meet her,” McIlroy said. “I just said what I’ve always tried to do is write everything down. Just whatever feelings you have after a practice session.
“All I was trying to tell her is it’s boring to be at the top of the game for a very long time. You just have to keep doing the same things. Whatever works.”
McIlroy, chairman of the PGA Tour Players Advisory Committee, said he favors the US Open adopting a core of host courses.
“When you think of a US Open, you think of the iconic venues it has been played on,” McIlroy said, citing Pebble Beach and Shinnecock. “There are courses that are just synonymous with US Opens. I don’t really think we need to go too far outside of those.”
He also favors the tour banning greens books, forcing players to know the putting surfaces better.
“For the greater good of the game, I’d like to see them be outlawed and for them not to be used anymore,” McIlroy said.
“It’s just taking away a skill that takes time and practice to be mastered. I think reading greens is a real skill that some people are better at than others, and it just nullifies that advantage.
“I think it has made everyone lazier. People don’t put in the time to prepare the way they used to.”