Rory McIlroy 'Hated' the Old Course at St. Andrews When He First Played It

Rory McIlroy tees off on the 18th hole at the Old Course at St. Andrews during the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
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NAPA, Calif. (AP) -- Rory McIlroy wouldn't describe his affection for the Old Course at St. Andrews as love at first sight.

"Hated it," he said last week at the Dunhill Links Championship.

McIlroy first played the Old Course in 2005 when he was 16 playing in the St. Andrews Links Trophy.

"Thought it was the worst golf course I've ever played," he said. "I just stood up on every tee and was like, 'What is the fascination about this place?' But the more you play it and the more you learn about the golf course and the little nuances, you learn to appreciate it. Now it's my favorite golf course in the world."

He's in good company. Bobby Jones was so frustrated in the 1921 British Open that he withdrew on the 11th hole of the third round.

McIlroy shot 69.

"But it's nothing to do with the score," McIlroy said. "That's not why I like a golf course. I like courses for lots of different reasons whether you shoot 64 or 74 on them."

Jones went on to win The Open in 1927 at St. Andrews, and he won the British Amateur on the Old Course as part of his Grand Slam in 1930.

McIlroy returned to St. Andrews in 2007 for the Dunhill Links and closed with a 68 to finish third, earning enough money to get his European Tour card at age 18. Three years later, he tied a major championship record with a 63 at St. Andrews (the wind swept him away to an 80 the next day).

"I've just become very comfortable on the Old Course," he said.

McIlroy returns in July to defend his title in the Open.

INSIDE THE ROPES: For the first two days of the Ryder Cup, only 16 players were on the golf course at the same time.

And they had plenty of company.

The greatest growth in golf might be the number of guests allowed inside the ropes at the Ryder Cup.

The access began with the players' wives dressed in uniform. It has expanded significantly in the last decade to include the parents of the players, the parents of the players' wives, other family members of the players, the wives and family members of the caddies. Not to be overlooked was Michael Jordan, a regular at the Ryder Cup.

Some have credentials. Some do not. One person at Gleneagles was the friend of a brother of a player. Other person seen inside the ropes was ... well, no one was sure.

It's not a clean look, especially with overhead views on television. And there were a few complaints from fans behind the ropes to struggled to see.

This has not escaped the attention of Ryder Cup organizers.

"It is an issue that we continue to review and monitor," Kerry Haigh, chief of championships for the PGA of America, said in an email. "As you know, there are a number of different groups that currently are allowed access inside the ropes. ... All categories and numbers are and will be reviewed and may be reduced or eliminated if we collectively feel it will be in the best interests of the Ryder Cup."

ROOKIE CLASS: The PGA Tour will have 21 players designated as rookies for the 2014-15 season, and four of them have never played a PGA Tour event.

That includes Byron Smith, at 33 the oldest of the rookies.

Smith grew up in Palm Desert, California, and went to Pepperdine until quitting the team after his sophomore year. In an interview with the Raleigh News & Observer after his Web.com Tour victory, Smith said he played bass guitar in a reggae-punk band and concentrated on his studies. He majored in philosophy. His senior thesis was titled, "Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, Bad Faith."

So how did golf get back into the picture? He went on a family holiday to British Columbia, was talked into bringing his clubs and shot 67. He got the bug again and told his father he planned to turn pro.

"He said, 'A pro in what?'" Smith said.

He was first alternate for the Frys.com Open.

BACK TO BRITAIN: Patrick Reed is headed back to Britain for another dose of match play.

Reed has been invited to take part in the Volvo World Match Play Championship at London Golf Club on Oct. 15-19. He is the lone American in the 16-man field, though certainly not the only Ryder Cup player. Defending champion Graeme McDowell, Henrik Stenson, Thomas Bjorn, Victor Dubuisson, Jamie Donaldson and Stephen Gallacher also are playing in an even that truly has a "world" atmosphere. The 16 players come from 13 countries.

Reed was 3-0-1 in his Ryder Cup debut at Gleneagles, the only American not to lose. At the Match Play Championship in Arizona earlier this year, he lost in the second round.

"Although we suffered a very disappointing loss at Gleneagles, I enjoyed the competition of my first Ryder Cup and can't wait to get back out there to play in another match play event in the UK," Reed said.

GOLFER OF THE MONTH: Rickie Fowler won a fan vote for PGA Tour player of the month even though Rory McIlroy won a World Golf Championship and a major. Paul McGinley won the media vote for European Tour golfer of the month for September without hitting a shot.

McGinley was selected by a panel of writers and broadcasters for his job as European captain in a resounding victory at the Ryder Cup.

"I feel like there are 12 winners of the Golfer of the Month Award rather than me," McGinley said. "But I'm delighted to accept this award on behalf of those 12 players who represented Europe so magnificently in the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles."

DIVOTS: The brother of Steve Stricker died over the weekend. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said Scott Stricker died Saturday. He suffered from Crohn's disease and had surgery in January to repair an intestinal tear. He had a liver transplant the following month. ... Thomas Bjorn and Stephen Gallacher are the only players from the Ryder Cup who will not be PGA Tour members this season. ... Scott Verplank and Chad Campbell are using their exemption from the top 50 in career money to have full status on the PGA Tour this year. Verplank turned 50 in June. Kenny Perry, who plays primarily on the Champions Tour, is using his one-time exemption from top 25 on the career money list.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Four players earned more than $4 million on the PGA Tour last year without winning a tournament.

FINAL WORD: "It's easy to accept these things when you have two majors in the bag -- same as the FedEx Cup, same as everything else that's happened after the summer." -- British Open and PGA champion Rory McIlroy after a late bogey cost him a chance to win the Dunhill Links Championship.

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