McIlroy opens up on Pinehurst: “It was a great day until it wasn’t”

Mark McGowan

Rory McIlroy speaking ahead of the Genesis Scottish Open (Photo by Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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Rory McIlroy has broken his silence after the heartbreaking loss in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, and the world number two feels that he’d played as well as he possibly could expect in contention in the final round of a major before the catastrophic final few holes, that criticism of caddie Harry Diamond is entirely unwarranted and that he has absolutely zero regrets about making a hasty exit and not speaking to the press.

“I think the way I’ve described Pinehurst on Sunday was like it was a great day until it wasn’t,” he said in his pre-tournament press conference at the Genesis Scottish Open. “I did things on that Sunday that I haven’t been able to do in the last couple years. Took control of the golf tournament. Held putts when I needed to. Well, mostly when I needed to. Made birdies. You know, really got myself in there. And then, look, obviously unfortunately to miss those last two putts, or the putt on 16 and obviously the putt on 18.”

Unsurprisingly, the days that followed were hard to swallow and, as predicted, he withdrew from the Travelers Championship, but time is a great healer and as the days passed he began to focus on the positives as opposed to the negatives.

“Yeah, it was a tough day,” he admitted. “It was a tough few days after that, obviously. But I think as you get further away from it happening, you start to see the positives and you start to see all the good things that you did throughout the week.

“Yeah, there’s learnings in there, too, right. I can vividly remember starting to feel a little uncomfortable waiting for my second putt on 16, and you know, the putt on the last, it was a really tricky putt. And I was very aware of where Bryson was off the tee. I knew I had to hit it really soft. If the one back didn’t matter, I would have hit it firmer.

“But because I was sort of in two minds, I didn’t know whether Bryson was going to make a par or not, it was one of those ones where I had to make sure that if the putt didn’t go in, that it wasn’t going ten feet by which it very easily could have.

“Thinking back, yeah, maybe I was a little too aware of where Bryson was and what he was doing but it was the nature of the golf course and how the golf course flowed. After the 14th tee, you’re sort of looking at 13 green, and then I had to wait on my tee shot on 15 before he hit, or you know, to let him hit his second shot into 14. Just the way the course flowed, it just made me very aware of what he was doing at the same time. So it sort of got me out of my own little world a little bit.

“But no, I mean, when I look back on that day, just like I look back on some of my toughest moments in my career, I’ll learn a lot from it and I’ll hopefully put that to good use. It’s something that’s been a bit of a theme throughout my career. I’ve been able to take those tough moments and turn them into great things not very long after that.”

It wasn’t the first time – or even the second or third – that he’d seeming snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and he admitted that each one stays with you to some degree.

“I still think about the short missed putt that I missed at Crans-sur-Sierre in 2008 in a playoff,” he recalled. “You think about all of them. And I was probably more devastated after that because it was my rookie year on Tour; I hadn’t won yet. I remember feeling really bad after that for like a good week.

“Yeah, I stewed on what happened at Pinehurst for a couple of days, but then, yeah, thankfully I can go home and look at what I’ve achieved in the game and sort of feel okay about myself.

“Yeah, look, it was a great opportunity. It passed me by but hopefully when I get that next opportunity, it won’t pass me by.”

Numerous media outlets, voices and columnists have been critical of the role – or lack thereof – that Rory’s caddie, best man and longtime friend Harry Diamond played during that closing stretch, but McIlroy fiercely came to his caddie’s defence.

“You know, it’s certainly unfair,” he responded when asked about comments made by swing coach Hank Haney and Smylie Kaufman on their respective podcasts. “Hank Haney has never been in that position. Smylie has been in that position once, and I love Smylie, and he was out there with us on 18.

“But just because Harry is not as vocal or loud with his words as other caddies, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t say anything and that he doesn’t do anything. I just wish that, you know, these guys that criticise when things don’t go my way, they never say anything good when things do go my way.

“So where were they when I won Dubai earlier year or Quail Hollow or the two FedEx Cups that I’ve won with Harry or the two Ryder Cups or whatever? They are never there to say Harry did such a great job when I win, but they are always there to criticise when we don’t win.

“At the end of the day, they are not there. They are in the in the arena. They are not the ones hitting the shots and making the decisions. Someone said to me once, you would never — if you would never take advice from these people, you would never take their criticisms, either. Certainly wouldn’t go to Hank Haney for advice. I love Smylie, but I think I know what I’m doing, and so does Harry.”

While Haney and Kaufman’s criticism centred on Diamond’s role, there was much more widespread criticism of McIlroy’s decision to depart Pinehurst without talking to the media, and if his defence of Diamond’s position was strong, he fought back even harder against those allegations.

“Absolutely not,” he defiantly replied to a question asking if he regretted his hasty exit. “No. There’s nothing that I could have said that was — not that — I mean, it would have been good because you guys would have been able to write something about it or have a few quotes from me. No offence; you guys were the least of my worries at that point.”

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