PGA Championship: Rory McIlroy just glad to have fans back, even the “stupid comments” brigade!

Rory McIlroy is willing to forgive the “stupid comments” emanating from outside the ropes as he looks to feed off the energy from the returning golf fans at this week’s PGA Championship.

McIlroy spoke many times last year of his struggles to cope with playing tournament golf behind closed doors when top-level competition resumed following the coronavirus shutdown, and he compared the lack of atmosphere to the eerie stadiums playing host to the Champions League semi-finals earlier this month.

It was, perhaps, no coincidence that he recently lifted his first silverware for 18 months in the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow, where large crowds followed his every move and helped inspire him to a one-shot victory – his third in the event.

And with around 10,000 spectators expected to be lining the fairways of the South Course at Kiawah Island this week, McIlroy is relishing the prospect of playing to the crowd – even the ones who shout “mashed potatoes”!

“It’s funny, ever since I was 16 years old I’ve had thousands of people watch me play golf pretty much every time I teed it up,” said McIlroy. “So playing in that environment for 14, 15 years and then having the complete opposite, it’s just different.

“I said at the time it was like playing practice rounds, when it’s easy to lose concentration. Everyone is used to a certain environment, whether you work or whatever you do.

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“I watched the Champions League semi-finals a couple of weeks ago and for those guys playing in that for the first time in their careers, and they’re playing in an empty stadium, that must be terrible. That’s not at all how you dream of being in a squad like that and playing in a massive game.

“You want to play in front of people and you want to feel that atmosphere. It’s unfortunate that in these times a lot of people don’t have that experience, but I am glad that we’re getting back to some sort of normalcy, and when you hit good shots and hole putts there are claps and rewards and encouragement.

“I feel like that’s all a part of tournament golf and competitive sports at the highest level, and just happy that I’m starting to come back. I loved hearing the ‘mashed potatoes’ guys again! But I don’t even care about the stupid comments, I’m just glad that everyone is back here.”

McIlroy, who admitted his PGA Championship victory at Kiawah Island in 2012 “feels like a lifetime ago”, was delighted with how he dealt with the pressure of leading down the stretch at Quail Hollow, and he hinted that his success came quicker than expected following his much-publicised swing problems earlier this year.

The 32-year-old missed the cut by 10 shots at The Players Championship and revealed he had been influenced by Bryson DeChambeau into chasing extra distance, to the “detriment” of his swing, and he has been working hard with Pete Cowen and Michael Bannon to iron out the flaws.

“I’ve always said when you’re in the thick of it, it always seems further away than it is,” he said when asked about the progress in his swing.

“I guess the big thing that I was really encouraged with at Quail Hollow is it was my first time really getting myself into contention in a while, and to have those thoughts and movements hold up under that pressure, trying to win a golf tournament, coming down some really tough holes, that’s what I was really pleased with.

“The two shots on 16, the tee shot into 17, obviously the tee shot into the last wasn’t great, but I got away with it. But to hit the shots exactly the way I wanted to and play those holes very well with a lead, that’s something that I haven’t been able to do probably over the last 18 months, going back to the start of 2020.

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“I was very encouraged with that. So yeah, look, it’s something I’m just going to have to continue to work on. I want to get better. I want my game to get better. I want to become more consistent. I want to be in those positions more often than I have been, and that’ll just mean keeping the head down and putting in the work.

“I’ve been doing that for the last couple of months, and it was nice to see some results pretty early on. But I feel like there’s still a long way to go.”

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