FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – If Rory McIlroy wins the 101st PGA Championship on Sunday in New York, it will be his second big victory in a week in the Northeast. The other one came last Thursday while partnering a man who knows a thing or two about claiming the greatest prizes in his sport: Tom Brady.
McIlroy and the Patriots quarterback played a friendly match against his Wall Street pal Jimmy Dunne and Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald last Thursday at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., which hosts the U.S. Open in 2022. The result was a resounding 7&6 win for McIlroy and Brady. “And that was with losing the first,” McIlroy said with a laugh.
The two-time PGA champion managed 11 holes of practice with Scotland’s Russell Knox on Tuesday, a day when course traffic was moving about as fast as rush hour on the Long Island Expressway. McIlroy insists he’s a fan of the stern Black Course despite mixed results in his previous visits. In the two Barclays Tour stops staged here — 2016 and 2012 — he finished T31 and T24, respectively. He was T10 in the last major held here, the 2009 U.S. Open.
“You get rewarded for good shots, and you get punished for bad ones. I feel sometimes at major championships courses are brought to the edge, and sometimes good shots are punished,” he said. “Whether that’s fair or not is up for debate, but I think it’s a very fair golf course. I think the setup is very fair.”
Course setups for the PGA Championship typically lack the gleeful severity common to U.S. Opens, and as he made his way around on an overcast afternoon McIlroy said he anticipates a winning score lower than the 4-under-par Lucas Glover posted in that Open a decade ago.
What would you take now and expect it to be good on Sunday night I asked?
“Eight under par,” he replied.“Four 68s.”
That total would match the highest winning score — posted three times — over the last 10 years in the PGA Championship.
Any winning total this week would vault McIlroy into an elite group of men with at least three PGA titles: Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen. It would also end a drought in the majors that extends back five years, to his last PGA triumph at Valhalla in 2014. He enters the week riding a wave of solid form, highlighted by a win at the Players Championship in March. His only finish outside the top 10 in nine starts this year was his T21 at the Masters.
McIlroy’s preparation for Bethpage was a little more conventional than his Boston tee party with Brady. He spent time last week working in Florida with his swing coach Michael Bannon and his putting guru Brad Faxon.
During his Tuesday morning press conference, the four-time major winner also faced questions about the Olympics in 2020. For most athletes, that’s a routine subject. For natives of Northern Ireland — where the Catholic population largely favors an Irish identity while Protestants lean British — it’s a loaded subject about which flag they will compete under. McIlroy might have assumed those identity questions might not come until a couple of majors down the road, when the Open Championship returns to Royal Portrush.
Asked it he plans to play in Tokyo, McIlroy said, “More likely than not I will play. I think it would be a great experience.”
That queued up the next question he knew was coming. Under which flag? “The same one that I said I was a few years ago,” he replied tersely. That would be Ireland. That’s the expected decision, not least because golf has always been played as a cross-border sport in his homeland, where all golfers, irrespective of religious or national identity, can play for Ireland. McIlroy himself played for Ireland as an amateur and intends to represent the flag in Tokyo.
After dealing with geopolitics, McIlroy admitted his routine this week will be much more humdrum. “I’ve got to catch up on the latest episode of Billions,” he said with a smile. “I missed that on Sunday night.”