The template for success, especially in the Majors, isn't a fixed one. This 104th edition of the US PGA Championship is at Southern Hills in Tulsa, a course described by Rory McIlroy as a "clean slate" in terms of the challenges that it will present given that it has undergone a significant overhaul by Gil Hanse since it last staged the event back in 2007.
Back then, McIlroy was getting ready for a Walker Cup on home turf at Royal Co Down which would be his swansong to the amateur game and his interest in events in Oklahoma was in watching his boyhood idol Tiger Woods plot a route to the title.
Some 15 years on and McIlroy is plotting his own method for this latest quest to add to his career total of four Majors. The last of those wins, he needs no reminding, came back in 2014 when he raised the Wanamaker Trophy for a second time. And he comes into this championship fresh off a charge at the Masters, where ultimately he finished runner-up to Scottie Scheffler.
With no playing history of Southern Hills to fall back on, nor with any benefit of a pre-tournament reconnaissance trip ala Woods to work out the lie of the land, McIlroy actually resorted to analysing video flyovers of the course to get a picture of what would be faced.
“(I) was just trying to get a feel for (the course), just wanted to get some info before coming up her so I had a little idea of what was going on . . . (on) the flyovers, the course looked much tighter than when you get out. I actually feel it sort of opens up for you off the tee a little bit, and I didn’t expect to hit as many drivers as I actually did,” said McIlroy.
If that came as a pleasant enough surprise to McIlroy, there was also confirmation that Hanse's redesign has put an increased emphasis on wedge play around the greens. In his off-week since playing in the Wells Fargo, that was precisely the area he'd worked on: "I focused a lot on iron play and chipping and putting because I knew that was basically going to be the key to having a good week this week. I feel good about it all. I'm certainly in a better place with my game than where I was this time last year going into Kiawah (Island)."
What’s more, a liking for the course has a way of promoting a positive vibe in a given week. And McIlroy likes what he has found. “I didn’t know what this place was like before Gil got his hands on it, but I think he’s done a wonderful job with it. Love the green complexes. I love that he gives you options off the tee. I think you’re going to see a lot of different strategies this week, guys hitting driver where maybe other guys aren’t and vice versa. It’s a really good track.”
He continued: “I think strategy off the tee and into the greens is pretty simple, then it gets a little more nuanced whenever you get on and around the greens. For the most part, you can’t miss the ball above the hole because the greens are slopey and there’s quite a pitch from back-to-front on a lot of them.
“You have a general idea of where the good miss is or where to leave it, but you’re going to encounter some stuff during the four days of play that you haven’t prepared for, missing it one side of a green instead of another. Things happen. We’re human, we’re not going to hit every shot perfectly. But that’s the great thing about our game. You have to adapt to these things and adapt to conditions.”
Indeed, the weather conditions will require players to adapt for sure. The wind is forecast to come from four different directions through the four championship days - switching from south-westerly in the first round to southerly on Friday, then from northerly on Saturday to north-easterly for the final round - while temperatures will range from a high of 34 degrees Celsius on Thursday to a cooler 17 degrees on Saturday. “You’re just going to have to sometimes adapt on the fly,” observed McIlroy.
The Masters has come and gone, that bid for the career Grand Slam put on hold for another year, but McIlroy’s goal is to get his name engraved onto another Major trophy. Eight years and counting since the last time. Longer than he or anyone could have envisaged, when he won in the twilight at Valhalla in Louisville.
“I think over the past few years, the things that have stopped me from getting in contention or being able to win these Majors is big numbers and shooting myself out of it sort of early. I can even think back to Augusta, I finished three behind in the end, and I went bogey-double bogey on 10 and 11 (in the second round) on Friday. You go par-par there and all of a sudden there’s those three shots. It’s tiny margins.