News & Opinion

McIlroy revels in ‘fun golf’ on Long Island

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – “Fun golf” is a foreign concept to most professional golfers.

Their mantra is that golf is work. So, for the pros, playing the game outside of a tournament still is, in their minds, work.

For many of us who play golf, even if not professionally or in tournament conditions, the game should be fun and entertaining.

So, when Rory McIlroy talked about playing at National Golf Links of America, a 1911 Charles Blair Macdonald masterpiece that borders U.S. Open site Shinnecock Hills on Long Island, and Friar’s Head and Garden City Golf Club as part of his preparation for this week’s Open, it was surprising.

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Rory McIlroy embraces the role of golf tourist leading into the U.S. Open.

© GOLFFILE/FRAN CAFFREY
Rory McIlroy embraces the role of golf tourist leading into the U.S. Open.

For McIlroy, his interest in the history and architecture of some of Long Island’s top courses was all about fun. He played with his father, Gerry, on an excursion that started last week, after McIlroy tied for eighth at the Memorial Tournament. Even after a week of golf with his father, McIlroy decided to take a day off but still wandered Shinnecock’s fairways with only a wedge and a putter.

“I would say for maybe five or six years, I never played fun golf,” McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, said Wednesday as he wrapped up preparations for his 10th U.S. Open. “It was all to do with getting ready to play tournaments. I didn't understand people that went out and played a lot.”

When McIlroy’s father joined Seminole Golf Club, a spectacular Donald Ross design in Juno Beach, Fla., the younger McIlroy found that fun golf could be possible for a professional.

“It's a real treat to be able to show up at any golf course in the country or the world and get out and play it and have a bit of fun,” McIlroy said.

In some ways, McIlroy is testing a new blueprint for his major-championship preparations: casual golf for much of his time on Long Island and then coming to Shinnecock in a good frame of mind for the grind that begins today (tee times).

With golf requiring such a strong mental focus, and with McIlroy comfortable in his game being in good stead, a positive mindset may make the difference.

“I think it does put you in a different frame of mind,” McIlroy said. “You're relaxed out there, and maybe that sort of bleeds into your mindset whenever you're here in a big championship. It's no different. I think that's the thing. If I've got a shot that I need to execute under pressure here this week, it's no different than playing that shot when I'm out there playing with my dad or my buddies or whatever it is.”

Can it be that easy, shifting from a casual setting into the cerebral demands of a major championship?

McIlroy, 29, owns four major championships among his 14 victories on the PGA Tour. He has proved to be adept at crafting a positive mindset into some of the game’s biggest conquests. This week, perhaps casual golf can lead to more success with tournament golf.

“So obviously, there is a separation of the two,” McIlroy said, “but the more you can get into that mindset of being relaxed and enjoying it, the better you're going to play.” 

Is it possible that a different mental outlook could make a similar difference?  

McIlroy is taking the leap that it will. By Sunday night, we will know for sure.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli