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Exclusive Interview with Rory Mcilroy and Jack Nicklaus; Dozens Compete for a Spot at U.S. Open Championships

Aired June 7, 2012 - 05:30:00   ET



SHANE O'DONOGHUE, HOST, CNN LIVING GOLF: The greatest major champion of all time and the greatest talent of his generation. For the first time ever in conversation on camera. Welcome to LIVING GOLF.

On this month's program, a CNN exclusive, ahead of the U.S. Open, the defending champion sits down on camera with the man who knows how to win majors, year after year after year.

Rory Mcilroy with the great Jack Nicklaus. And we pay a visit to the grave yard of champions; San Francisco's Olympic club.

(voice-over): And we follow some of the 9000 hopefuls trying to qualify for their shot at the U.S. Open glory.

(on camera): Now this time last year, at this very club, Rory Mcilroy turned to Jack Nicklaus for advice. Rory had just blown a lead in the final round of the masters.

Just weeks after that conversation, Rory went to congressional and blew away the field. Becoming just of Jack had been a U.S. Open champion at 22 years of age.

Twelve months on, and for the first time ever, Jack and Rory have agreed to sit down with us to talk about the U.S. Opens, pressure, Tiger, the state of the game and winning majors.

And it is a great pleasure to have these two wonderful golfers here both celebrating anniversaries coming up. Jack, 50 years ago, your incredible win at Oak mount and the first anniversary of your victory in the U.S. Open.

Rory and it was here at Mullfield village that you had the chat with Jack, was that the first time since the masters or have you spoken on the phone?

RORY MCILROY, U.S. OPEN CHAMPION, 2011: No, that was the first time, that was the first time I'd seen Jack since that finals at the masters and I remember I think he said something I'm going to kick your rare end, something like that and --

JACK NICKLAUS, 18-TIME MAJOR WINNER: I wouldn't say anything.

MCILROY: But no it was a, it was a good talk, it was only very brief but you know I remember Jack saying to me just about the pressure -- you know you put yourself under and you have to realize that pressure and thrive it, thrive off it and -- you know something that -- you know Jack did for his whole career.

NICKLAUS: And I think I said, I said did you learn anything? And he said I hope so and said I think so, he said I think I know why I did what I did and what happened and what it is.

I said well it's really important that you understand what happened you? And you know that -- and not to try to make those same mistakes again.

I said Watson screwed up, I said Watson had two PGAs and a U.S. Open, and he had messed up not knowing how to win. I said I gave away a U.S. Open that Arnold won at Cherry Hills but knowing how to win.

I gave away a British Open by not knowing how to win. But I learnt from it, so that's why I asked him, I said did you learn from it? And then he went right off the next week to the U.S. Open and just absolutely just bust the field.

So, I dropped him a note after the U.S. Open, I said, I said now you told me you learnt something, I guess obviously that happened. I said but more importantly, did you learn something from your win?

Because you know, it's one thing to learn what your mistakes were, but it's also another thing to learn how to win?

O'DONOGHUE: A big thing to get the major early though, isn't this?

NICKLAUS: Oh -- he's got the monkey off his back right now, it's gone. He now can go play golf, he doesn't have to worry about -- having to worry about people saying, well he's a good really, a good player but he's never won.

And you know, the next one will come, and it will come when it's ready to come and when they do, it may start coming -- and I may have, I may worry about him meeting Tiger.


O'DONOGHUE: And speaking briefly about Olympic, you've not seen Olympic yet. You've got a busy schedule leading up to us, is that the preparation to get those tournament rounds in? Is that the way that you feel you'll be best prepared?

MCILROY: Yeah, I think so. I think -- especially if you're -- maybe working on a couple of things in your game, I feel like I need the competitive runs just to play my way into it so -- I did a completely different last year and it worked well, I take a week off for the masters this year and you know --

NICKLAUS: What did you -- did you play the week before the Open last year?


NICKLAUS: And you're going to play the week before the Open this year?


NICKLAUS: I'll keep my mouth shut. You're not going to see nothing until --

MCILROY: Until Monday.



O'DONOGHUE: What do you make of Olympic Jack?

NICKLAUS: Olympic is a -- I think Olympic takes little knowing. You know it's a -- I wish he was going out to practice rightly. But that's his call, not my call.

O'DONOGHUE: You might make a little visits perhaps?

MCILROY: Yeah. I could -- I can still do that. I can still do from here straight to San Francisco and then back to -- long way to go there and come back.

NICKLAUS: You know why I never played the week before the majors because in 1962 when I first turned pro, I played the week before the masters.

People had wanted me to play in the tournament and I went and played, didn't do well in the masters. I skipped that tournament for next year, I won the masters.

I went back and played that tournament next year, did not win the masters. I skipped the tournament the next year, won the masters, skipped the tournament next year won the masters.

O'DONOGHUE: It's just a little advice there from the 18-time major winner.

MCILROY: Definitely so.

NICKLAUS: I'm a big fan.

O'DONOGHUE: I know you are.

NICKLAUS: I'm a big fan and I want him to play well and I want him to -- you know as they say, get smart young.

O'DONOGHUE: Yeah. You clearly are looking for something right now though just three tournaments played, to give you that edge.

MCILROY: Yeah, just like competitive sharpness more than anything else.

O'DONOGHUE: Has it being a bit of a shock this, you've suddenly lust something, you know is that just the game of golf?

MCILROY: I think that's just golf. You know the game of golf -- you know you're not going to play well all the time.

You're going to have periods where you struggle and you find the game quite difficult and you're going to have periods where everything seems like it comes easy to you.

And I think it's just -- you know the golfing gods, whoever it is up there just reminding me that you know what? This game isn't as easy as it seems sometimes.

It's easy to win when you -- it's not easy -- it's never easy to win but it's a lot easier to win when you play well. You know the key is winning golf tournaments when you're not playing so well.

Managing your game and that's something that I still feel like I'm learning to do. You know I felt this year at the Hondo, when I won, it was a big turning point for me because I didn't play so well from tee to green but you know my shot came save me and got me the win.

But yeah, that's the -- you know that's the thing but I think it just comes with experience.

O'DONOGHUE: Tiger Woods at the moment is trying to get back to where he was. Where do you see him as at the moment?

NICKLAUS: He's got so much talent and his work ethic is so good, his mental approach which is what is really in question I think has always prior to this being so good.

I don't think a swing teachers is what -- Tiger's -- looking at it and he keeps talking about going back and working with the fella. I mean Tiger to me needs to go -- be Tiger, go play golf and do what you have to do.

Rather than going back and trying to rely on somebody else to give you a hint to how to play. I sat next to him at the masters dinner this year, and he gave me some great answers because I asked him a question, I said you got to be the best teacher for yourself.

Why do you -- it's not just another pair of eyes, it is frankly -- because I use my teacher to give me some ideas -- but then now you go work on it myself. I said what to do -- OK, that's fine.

But I mean the press doesn't handle that, we don't read it that way.

MCILROY: You know I've played with him a few times this year and every time I've played with him, I have been very impressed. You know, things like this, this guy is very close to doing something -- you know very special and you know he works as hard as anyone as anyone on tour.

You know he's working hard to try to get back to the level he was at -- you know ten years ago. You know I don't know if we'll ever see that level again, you know he's under intense -- you know such a -- I'm on to scrutiny that you know you really have to be headstrong and believe in what you're doing.

NICKLAUS: But we all go through it, and that's the whole thing. I went through the same things these guys are going through. I remember I had the same problems, I went from 1967 to 1970 right in the prime of my career when I won a major.

I just worked myself out of it. You know then all of a sudden I had success at the 70 British Open, and I was back again. And if you've got a goal in mind, and it's -- and I think it's so much better.

I didn't have a big goal in mind. It was not until 1970, that I walked in the press room and Bob Green from APS said, Jack, it's your 10th major, only three more to tie Bobby Jones, I had never edited, I had no idea how many majors I won, never paid attention to it.

From day one, Tiger has had -- Tiger has one, and only got 17 more for Jack. He got two, he got three, you know what I'm saying. I never had that, we didn't have that, it wasn't a big deal.

And as soon as I found them, I had -- I said is that right I have ten, yeah. Since then, Chris -- he knows we count with the ammeter.

And all of a sudden I said oh well then -- you know I had always said Bobby Jones who have sort of being my idol as a record of what happen? Then I want to really break his record.

This young man is a talented young player, he come I can help him give him an advice, I'm delighted to do so but I'm also quite happy to stay out of the way in any way as he performs, but if you want me, I'm there.

MCILROY: Thank you very much.


O'DONOGHUE: It's been a great pleasure spending time with both of you. Rory, congratulations in all of your successes so far.

MCILROY: Thank you.

O'DONOGHUE: And as you go to defend your U.S. Open title, the very best of luck.

MCILROY: Thank you.

O'DONOGHUE: Mr. Nicklaus, congratulations on a wonderful and an amazing career but also on the 50th anniversary of your first ever win in a major, it was your first ever professional win, it was the U.S. Open --

NICKLAUS: Thank you.

O'DONOGHUE: We have the trophy back there and it is shining and hopefully for us Rory you would be lifting it again.

MCILROY: I hope so.

NICKLAUS: He'll lifting it quite a few times.

O'DONOGHUE: Gentlemen, thank you very much.

MCILROY: Thank you.

O'DONOGHUE(voice-over): And you may not be surprised to hear that just a couple of days later Rory did indeed take a flight to San Francisco to practice at Olympic.

(on camera): Still to come on LIVING GOLF, from San Francisco, the strange history of this year's U.S. Open venue.


O'DONOGHUE: Nine thousand and six players started out competing for the second major of the year, the U.S. Open. Of those, 156, made it here to San Francisco, the home of the Olympic club.

And if the history of the club tells us anything, it's that once here anything could happen, because they're called Olympic, the grave yard of champions.

MIKE DAVIS, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, USGA: Well this is the fifth U.S. Open its had, when you think back the past U.S. Opens, you remember more about the legend who didn't win versus who did win.

SCOTT SIMPSON, U.S. OPEN CHAMPION, 1987: Well, it's called the grave yard of champions just because some of the greatest champions of all times have lost there.

ART SPANDER, JOURNALIST: But basically it came from the first two guys and then Hogan not winning and Palmer not winning.

SIMPSON: And then, me beating Tom Watson and then Payne Stewart lost there.

SPANDER: And people would say, how did that happen?

O'DONOGHUE: It was on this 18th hole in 1955 that Jack Fleck, a relative unknown from Iowa defeated the great Ben Hogan in a play-off to win the United States Open.

It was one of the greatest upsets in golfing history.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody knew who he was, he was a pro and newbie in Iowa. Everybody figured Hogan would win and he was the favorite and then somebody said there's a man out in the golf course who can cut you Mr. Hogan.

And Hogan said, well I hope either birdie or bogey is the last hole because I don't want to get into a play-off. And he ended up on a play-off.

O'DONOGHUE(voice over): The grave yard of champions also caught out the reigning super star, Arnold Palmer in 1966. It's not often a player loses a seven shot lead with nine holes to play, but that's what happened when Billy Casper stole the title.

BILLY CASPER, U.S. OPEN CHAMPION, 1966: The way he was playing, he deserved to win another Open. Man, I had three holes to play and I was three shots behind and I really felt that I had the chance to win. And as it turned out, it's exactly what happened.

SPANDER: Arnie was playing for the record which was his problem. And actually Casper who was with him was down on the dumps and Arnie said something like and I can't give you the exact quote but he said "Hang in there Billy, I will help you along, you'll finish second, don't get discouraged."

CASPER: He shot 32-39 for 71 and usually, these shots helped me won in the final round of the Opel Open, a major championship, you win the tournament.

While I shot 36-32, I made three birdies and six pars that back nine and I accomplished my goal. He didn't accomplish his goal unfortunately and but fortunately for me.

O'DONOGHUE: And a third upset in '87 seals the Olympic club's reputation when Scott Simpson holds a Tom Watson's match to the title.

SIMPSON: He came to 18 and he hit a shot and it came up short and I think he mis-judged the wind, the wrong par or something and I thought oh gee, I'm going to win the U.S. Open. To win a tournament like that, I mean it's dream come true.

Afterwards, Watson could not have been more gracious, then he turned to me and he said Scott, I gave it the best I had and then you were just better today and that meant a lot. You know because I definitely don't think I'm in Watson category but for a little bit there, I was, thought that was really cool.

O'DONOGHUE: So at the U.S. Open in 1998, it was no surprise that Payne Stewart who took a four stroke lead going into Sunday, followed in the footsteps of champions past and faltered.

SPANDER: He shot 74 but Lee Johnson had 68. If you break par in the final round of the U.S. Open, you have played really good golf.

O'DONOGHUE(on camera): Well, I'm not a major winner nor in contention to win a U.S. Open, so there should be no demand on my shoulder here. But I am very keen to see what the players will be facing come June 11th, and I've heard that there're quite a few changes in store.

PATRICK FINLEN, DIRECTOR, GOLF MAINTENANCE OPERATIONS, OLYMPIC CLUB: When Mike Davies told me he was going to go back to six, seven, trying to figure out where in the heck are you going to put this tee, so he came out here and we looked at this spot that we're standing on now, and it lines up perfectly with the hole.

So it's going to be a dramatic 670 yard par five, the longest hole in U.S. Open history.

DAVIS: Close to California, we don't get rain that time of the year. You do get some wind so when you a firm vast conditions, it doesn't matter what the length is, it's going to challenge the world's best.

O'DONOGHUE: And now to play the iconic 18 hole here at the Olympic club in San Francisco, some call it the grave yard of champions. This particular course is a very stern test, very tight fairways, very small green.

And who will win the 2012 U.S. Open, well history will suggest that it's going to be another surprise winner. Whatever, it is going to be a very exciting championship.


O'DONOGHUE: Welcome back to LIVING GOLF. Now it's just a history of this course which gives hope to the many thousands who entered this year's U.S. Open.

Another inspiration is the champion of 2005, Michael Campbell of New Zealand, who needed a birdie par on the final hole of European qualifying at Walton Heath to clinch a place at Pinehurst that year.

He made it, came over here and took on the best players in the world and won the U.S. Open by two shots from Tiger Woods. So where better than the sorry Heath land to find this year's players all chasing U.S. Open glory.

MARK HILL, SENIOR DIRECTOR, USGA: This is what we know as sectional qualifying for the United States Open championship. It's what we refer to as our European qualifier. We have a few of the '81 contestants today playing for 11 spots.

STUART CHRISTIE, SECRETARY, WALTON HEATH: This is the picture that Michael Campbell sent us after he was victorious in the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst where he won by two shots than Tiger Woods.

He had actually qualified for the U.S. Open here at Walton Heath.

MICHAEL CAMPBELL, U.S. OPEN CHAMPION, 2005: If not Walton Heath, I wouldn't be a major winner.

Absolutely, every time I walk around both courses I just remember this certain shot I played on this hole, that took the time during the qualifying, it was just -- was a very special moment or memory for me and always I always keep the (INAUDIBLE) high.

RICHARD RAMSEY, GOLFER: I'm Richard Ramsey from Aberdeen, Scotland.

TOM LEE, GOLFER: My name is Tom Lee, I'm 21 and I'm from Wales in Garden city.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mapenimo Setta(ph), 19 years old from (INAUDIBLE).

PIUS LOVE(ph), GOLFER: Colin Montgomerie, Scotland, 59. I'm Pius Love, I'm 43 and I'm from France.

COLIN MONTGOMERIE, FORMER RYDER CUP CAPTAIN: If we don't play, we can't win and that's what we're here for. We all know that Michael Campbell won from here in 2005.

You realize that if you do entry, you qualify here, you have chance.

LOVE(ph): You need two good rounds basically, you need to cope with -- you know being tired on the second round.

RICHIE RAMSEY, GOLFER: First I think -- well I thought it was pretty much -- you could use other words before you use awful, easiest word to describe that.

MATTEO MANASSERO, GOLFER: Very close, the under is just outside the cut line of the 11 players so I think it's going to be around seven and eight.

MONTGOMERIE: I think they crossed that so we can do -- they can hold it out to the way I did this morning, I have a chance. That's all I can say.

CHRISTIE: I think you go from the Ryder cup captain Jose Maria, Pablo and Colin Montgomerie, all the way down to the younger players who are here. Everybody wants to get into a major, it's what they play golf for.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's so exciting to come and watch such good golf. I come every year, I think this is my sixth year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a real pleasure to see top class professionals playing -- well of course. It is how they play it and how different it is from the way that I played it, lovely.

SIHWAN KIM, GOLFER: So it's more post dropped in the second round than I was able to have a similar score, maybe four or five under, but -- you know things don't really happen that way in golf.

JEEV MILKHA SINGH, GOLFER: Fingers crossed, still hoping that five undergoes for a player to at least to have a chance in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't make any impact at all, I just played with -- I think it was 16, that was the only birdie of the afternoon and it's hard to score.

MANHEW BALDWIN, QUALIFIED, U.S. OPEN: Yeah, I don't think I've ever played under such a big crowd so -- it was close, it was difficult there. The greatest golfer, Bobby Jones.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This thing here is the U.S. Open credentials.

I was really happy the way I played this first round, two big shots and gave myself a very short par for birdie and to make it through. So it is ready to go.

PETER LAWRIE, QUALIFIED, U.S. OPEN: No, it was dangling I have to admit, the green is a bit bubbly this time a nice, and you just don't want to leave yourself anything that you could miss.

Unfortunately I left myself there, 2 1/2 feet for par pass, there yeah. Luckily, it went in the front door.

RAPHAEL JACQUELIN, QUALIFIED, U.S. OPEN: It was a long wait but at least we have five players of course, but it was, it was OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know I knew I had to hit a left, but just little pressure here and there, just things didn't really work out for me so -- I knew I had a better chance in the first hole, and I just hit a terrible chip over there.

But you know -- maybe next time I'll get in.

O'DONOGHUE: Well that's it from this edition of LIVING GOLF. Don't forget all of our reports and our interviews are online and you can follow what we're up to on twitter.

But for now, from Jack Nicklaus' club in Ohio, it's goodbye.