McIlroy ready for mental examination: "That's what's going to win it for you this week"

McIlroy ready for mental examination: "That's what's going to win it for you this week"
 Rory McIlroy hits his tee shot on the 12thole during a practice round for the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pa. on Tuesday, June 14, 2016. (Copyright USGA/JD Cuban)

Rory McIlroy hits his tee shot on the 12thole during a practice round for the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pa. on Tuesday, June 14, 2016. (Copyright USGA/JD Cuban)

Rory McIlroy hit a massive drive down the middle of the 10th fairway, found the front edge in two and then suffered what can only be described as the typical Oakmont terror.

Eight feet short with his slippery first putt — caddies at Oakmont advise visitors to putt with the shadow of the putter — he burned the  edge with the next one, running at least six feet past. 

He then had two more goes at the same par putt and missed those too. Little wonder he’s preparing to pass a searching mental and physical test.

Whatever about trying to etch another page in the history books — Sarazen, Jones, Snead and Nicklaus all won at Oakmont — McIlroy also knows that to be compared with the greats of the game, he must show he has the mentla strength to grind out a win on a hard, fast set-up.

“I'd be very proud if I won on a golf course like this,” he said. “As you said, the Majors that I have won have been soft and under par and more suited to my style of game. 

“But to be able to win on a course like this with the conditions the way they are, it would probably be my, I don't know, maybe my biggest accomplishment in the game. But definitely would make me feel like a more complete player, I guess.

“I think with experience, you learn what a good score is on that particular day or, if you're not playing so well, how to just grind it out and make pars and try to get it in the clubhouse at a respectable score. 

“And I feel like just over the years I've learned how to do that a little bit better. That just comes with playing tournaments and being experienced and knowing what the conditions are like.”

Given the list of former winners at the Pittsburgh venue, McIlroy admits he’s expecting to be in contention as the cream rises to the top.

“I think so,” he said. “You look at the list of winners here at Oakmont, and even Cabrera last time in '07, at that point in his career, when he got on, he was one of the best in the world.

“I would expect that the more established players in the game and the players that are up near the top of the world rankings to do well this week because it is a golf course that can separate the players that are playing well from the players that are just slightly off their games.

 Rory McIlroy chips onto the green at the 12th hole during a practice round for the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pa. on Tuesday, June 14, 2016. (Copyright USGA/JD Cuban)

Rory McIlroy chips onto the green at the 12th hole during a practice round for the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pa. on Tuesday, June 14, 2016. (Copyright USGA/JD Cuban)

“I think that's one of the things this week you'll see. If guys are playing well and they're confident, you'll maybe get it around in under par. 

“But the guys that are struggling, it will really magnify that weakness, and you'll see a lot of high scores as well. 

“So I feel like it will stretch the field out a bit between the guys that are playing very well and are very comfortable and the guys that are struggling a little bit.

“But I definitely feel like I'm a more disciplined and more experienced player than I was a couple years ago. I can see nothing but a benefit of that this week.”

Long straight driving is McIlroy’s biggest weapon but he admitted that he’ll hit few drivers — “I’ll hit 2 iron off the tee much more than I’ll hit driver — and try instead to be disciplined and play aggressively to more conservative targets.

“It's a great test of golf,” he said. “Every shot you hit, you're under pressure to hit a great shot because you can't really miss it. 

“You have to get the ball in play. You really need to put the ball on the fairway. That's a huge premium. 

“And if you get your ball on the fairway, you've just got to make sure that you leave yourself below the hole on the greens. 

“I’d much rather have a 30-foot putt up the hill on these greens than even an 8-footer down the hill.”

Finding the correct balance between attack and defense is key this week but for a player who has often struggled to deal with adversity, mental discipline and resilience will be even bigger.

“You can't slap it around here,” he said. “You have to flight your iron shots. You have to still hit high quality golf shots to give yourself a chance. 

“Mentally, that's what's going to win it for you this week. 

“It will be about how people can keep their calm and keep their composure.”

When asked what word described Oakmont, he said: “Trepidation, I guess. 

“Excitement is a good way to describe Augusta, but this week it's not excitement. I mean, it's definitely not that.

“You know you're going to be put under a lot of pressure on basically every single golf shot you hit out there. 

So you have to be prepared for that. You have to be prepared for how mentally demanding it's going to be, how much concentration you're going to need out there."