Why Rory McIlroy isn’t buying the ‘hype’ about Winged Foot’s brutal setup

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy talks to reporters on Tuesday at Winged Foot.

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It’s U.S. Open week, and, as is tradition, the slick undulating greens and terrifyingly thick rough are getting a lot of attention, especially given the especially difficult host course, Winged Foot.

Some would have you believe no one will come close to sniffing par across four rounds. But 2011 U.S. Open Champion Rory McIlroy made it clear that he’s not among them.

During his pre-tournament press conference on Tuesday, McIlroy was asked repeatedly about the daunting setup at Winged Foot this week, and how he expects to contend with such a tough test. And he had a lot to say on the matter.

Surprisingly, Rory revealed that this week was his first time ever setting foot on the course that has hosted five previous U.S. Opens. After playing 18 during a practice round, he’s not shaking in his cleats.

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“It’s hard, obviously, but I think it’s very, very fair,” McIlroy said of his first glimpse at the course. “I said to someone yesterday when I played Oakmont for the first time, my initial reaction was, this place is impossible, where it’s not — this course doesn’t feel quite as — it gives you a little more chances if you miss it, I guess. You can run the ball up on to the greens and maybe a touch more playable, but it’s a tough track, and I’m still learning it as I go here.”

When asked if there was a chance the setup would be so difficult that it would turn into “goofy golf,” McIlroy again used Oakmont, which last hosted the U.S. Open in 2016, for comparison.

“Something would have to go seriously wrong to get into the realms of goofy golf. I think good shots here seem to get rewarded… Again, going back to Oakmont, Oakmont is a wonderful golf course, but I think Oakmont setup normally is right about on the edge, and if you just go a little further, then that can start to get a little goofy, where here it doesn’t seem like that can happen,” McIlroy explained. “Certainly if you get it way too firm and you get some crosswinds and stuff, it can get pretty dicey, but from what I’ve seen yesterday and today, I expect that not to happen.”

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He also admitted that he is not immune to all the talk about how tough Winged Foot will play, but a lot of that talk can be chalked up to hype.

“I think when you read articles about golf courses… sometimes they get so hyped up and so made into these — this is a wonderful golf course, and I think one of the best that I’ve played for a U.S. Open, but you still get here and — I thought I was going to have to hit driver, 5-iron into every par-4, and it’s not quite like that,” he said. “There’s still places where precision beats power, and that’s been the case here at U.S. Opens in the past.”

Eighteen holes is hardly a large enough sample size to judge a course like Winged Foot, but given his first impression, it sounds like McIlroy likes his chances this week. He tees off for the opening round on Thursday morning at 8:07 a.m. ET with Adam Scott and Justin Rose.

Kevin Cunningham

Kevin Cunningham

Golf.com Editor

As managing producer for GOLF.com, Cunningham edits, writes and publishes stories on GOLF.com, and manages the brand’s e-newsletters, which reach more than 1.4 million subscribers each month. A former two-time intern, he also helps keep GOLF.com humming outside the news-breaking stories and service content provided by our reporters and writers, and works with the tech team in the development of new products and innovative ways to deliver an engaging site to our audience.