PINEHURST, N.C. — It is a measure of Rory McIlroy’s standing in the golf world, even at age 25, that he can call up Jack Nicklaus’s secretary and promptly schedule a meeting. This is precisely what he did last week, following two rounds of practice at Pinehurst No. 2 in preparation for the U.S. Open, and the 18-time major champion sat down the 2011 U.S. Open winner and wondered something.
“How the hell can you shoot 63 and then 78?” McIlroy said Nicklaus asked, referring to his performance last month in the first two rounds at the Memorial, which Nicklaus hosts.
“I wasn’t meaning to, Jack,” McIlroy replied.
It is, though, instructive of McIlroy’s inconsistent but improving play. He has, too many times, had one nine-hole stretch derail a tournament, a trend he’s hoping to break here.
“I don’t know if it’s because I’ve got off to such good starts in tournaments where I may be thinking too much about my score,” McIlroy said. “I might be trying to push too much and keep it going.”
McIlroy’s two-hour chat with Nicklaus came a week ago Wednesday at Nicklaus’s office in West Palm Beach, Fla.
“A great sort of conversation about everything: business, golf, brand, the whole lot,” McIlroy said. “And I got a lot from that. . . . I feel very honored that I’m able to call him up for advice if I need to, and he’s been very generous with his time. It was great to spend some time with him last week. Some of the things he said to me, I’m really thinking about going into this week.”
Michael Campbell could be here at Pinehurst, recreating and reliving the best moment of his golf career: winning the 2005 U.S. Open right here on No. 2. Open winners receive an invitation back for 10 years.
But Campbell, one of the most unlikely Open winners ever, announced last month that he would not return. He cited not only an ankle injury, but the collapse of his marriage.
“I do not feel that I am either fully physically or mentally ready to play tournament golf at the highest level,” Campbell wrote on his Web site.
The New Zealander has made just one cut in his eight Opens since he won, and he made just five of 17 cuts on the European Tour a year ago. Now 45, he has fallen to 595th in the Official World Golf Rankings.
For the first time, the U.S. Golf Association will stage the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women’s Open in back-to-back weeks on the same course. The course the men will play this week maxes out at 7,562 yards. The women will play it at a max of 6,649 yards. But the USGA wants it to play similarly.
“For the two weeks, our intent is to try to test both groups of golfers in a like manner,” USGA Executive Director Mike Davis said. “Whether we’re actually able to pull that off or not is another story.” . . .
Webb Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champ, grew up in Raleigh, just more than an hour north of Pinehurst. When the Open made its first appearance here in 1999, Simpson served as a standard-bearer for Tom Watson and Australian Stephen Allan during the third round.