SOUTHAMPTON, England – For years, Rory McIlroy never played “fun golf” and didn’t understand pro golfers who did. But then his dad, Gerry, got a membership at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla., and the younger McIlroy started to rediscover a love for playing the game aside from just preparing for tournaments.
“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.
One of those, obviously, is Shinnecock Hills, host of this week’s U.S. Open and Golfweek’s No. 3 classic course. He also played National Golf Links of America, No. 5 among classic courses and right next door to Shinnecock, and Garden City (N.Y.) Golf Club, the 28th-ranked classic course.
Then there was Friar’s Head in Baiting Hollow, N.Y., which was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and opened in 2003. It is ranked third on Golfweek’s Best Modern Courses list.
“I’m a big fan of what Coore and Crenshaw have tried to do with their golf courses, and Friar’s Head is one of the best I’ve played,” McIlroy said. “Not just for the design, but just for the setting and the scenery. I think 14 and 15 are two of the prettiest golf holes I’ve ever seen. It sort of reminds you of a Cypress Point.”
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McIlroy estimated he played 18 of 19 days since the start of the BMW PGA, where he finished second before tying for eighth the next week at Memorial. He rested last Saturday, opting instead to walk Shinnecock with a wedge and putter.
“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.
“So obviously, there is a separation of the two, but the more you can get into that mindset of being relaxed and enjoying it, the better you’re going to play.”
It’s hard not to enjoy the list of courses McIlroy teed it up at this past week. We’re all officially jealous.