Golf

US Open notebook: Masters champion Willett talks Grand Slam, McIlroy feeling ‘trepidation,’ Fowler keeps Snapchatting

Four major wins, one calendar year.

The single-season Grand Slam has never been done, and Danny Willett really can’t see it happening to anyone during his golf career.

Even though he’s the only player that could accomplish the feat in 2016.

Willett, this year’s Masters champion, can take the next step toward history by winning the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club this weekend.

“Sounds easy, huh?” Willett said at a press conference Tuesday.

When he broke it down a little bit, Willett, paired with Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler for the first two rounds, was somewhat surprised that the single-season Grand Slam hadn’t been done.

“But saying that, from now on ... I honestly can’t see it happening too much, just purely because of the strength and depth of the field,” the 28-year-old Englishman said. “You’d have had more chance back in the day, I guess. But even then, you had (Arnold) Palmer, (Gary) Player, (Jack) Nicklaus, (Tom) Watson. It’s not like none of them wanted to do it at any time.

“It just shows you how difficult it actually is to do.”

While Oakmont is sure to test the mettle of anyone with a club in their hands, Willett comes to one of the world’s toughest courses in solid form.

Not only did he snatch the Masters away from Jordan Spieth, but Willett also finished third at the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship a few weeks ago.

Willett knows how difficult a win at Oakmont, let alone a single-season Grand Slam, will be.

Still, the Masters champ is happy to be where he is.

“It’s just nice that we have got that chance,” Willett said of the Grand Slam. “What comes of that, you know, you don’t really know.”

Day thinks U.S. Open ‘sets up well’

Jason Day, the No. 1 player in the world, believes out of all four majors, the U.S. Open best matches his skill set.

Even at Oakmont.

“When I was a kid, I’d hit it everywhere,” the 28-year-old Aussie said. “And when I hit everywhere, I had a short game to save me. ... That’s kind of what you need here.”

Day won his first and only major at the 2015 PGA Championship, and while he’s never won a U.S. Open, he’s been knocking on the door in recent years. He finished second twice, in 2011 at Congressional and in 2013 at Merion.

Oakmont will arguably be a tougher test than either of those two courses, but Day, who is grouped with Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen on Thursday and Friday, sees it as a good fit.

From a physical perspective, Day likes to hit it high, allowing him to better handle firm and fast greens — which Oakmont will certainly provide this week.

But it’s more mental than anything with Day.

He remembers players complaining about the greens at Chambers Bay, the host of the 2015 U.S. Open, and thinking, “That just doesn’t help.”

Instead, Day tries to keep a positive attitude — especially when faced with arduous situations.

“I’ve been very close to winning a U.S. Open, especially the last few years,” Day said. “This is one tournament that is very stressful, and I feel like I thrive under stress.

“Hopefully I can do that this year.”

McIlroy on Oakmont feeling: ‘It’s not excitement’

For Rory McIlroy, “excitement” is a good way to describe how it feels heading into the Masters.

What about Oakmont?

“Trepidation, I guess,” the 2011 U.S. Open and four-time major winner said. “This week it’s definitely, it’s not excitement. I mean, it’s definitely not that.”

McIlroy, fresh off a win at the Irish Open and a tie for fourth at The Memorial, called Oakmont’s uncompromising terrain “a great test of golf.”

With every shot, there’s pressure.

“You can’t really miss it,” the 27-year-old Northern Irishman said. “You have to be prepared for how mentally demanding it’s going to be, how much concentration you’re going to need out there. ... It’s the toughest test in golf, and you know that.”

The No. 3 player in world dominated the field at Congressional in 2011, defeating Day by eight strokes and setting a U.S. Open record with a 72-hole aggregate score of 268 (16-under par).

His play at U.S. Opens hasn’t been as polished since, missing the cut in 2012 and finishing T41, T23 and T9 in the past three years.

But McIlroy looked back fondly on his Sunday finish at Congressional, winning in style with his dad in attendance on Father’s Day.

“At least I didn’t have to worry about a Father’s Day present that year, just give him that,” McIlroy said. “That was easy enough. Didn’t have to go and get a card or anything.

“I haven’t quite been able to deliver that present to him again. Hopefully I can do it again this week.”

Fowler having fun with social media

Unlike Willett, Day or McIlroy, one of golf’s biggest superstars, Rickie Fowler, has yet to win a major.

And while the No. 5 player in the world absolutely wants to change that, hopefully sooner rather than later, he’s not sitting around moping.

As always, he’s keeping fans entertained.

Fowler’s Snapchat took on a life of its own during his spring break trip — a.k.a #SB2K16 — with Spieth, Justin Thomas and Smylie Kaufman to the Bahamas in late April.

Since then, Fowler’s popular Snap Stories have given followers an inside look at one of golf’s most colorful characters.

And that’s not stopping during U.S. Open week.

The past few days, Fowler has had his phone on the course, taking videos of everything from tee shots to Thomas throwing a club cover at him.

“It’s fun,” the 27-year-old said. “I think it’s a great way to involve the fans a bit more. From the feedback that I’ve gotten, they enjoy it. It’s a side that they don’t get to see.”

Plus, there’s no way to comment negatively on someone’s Snapchat picture or video, so there’s no backlash from salty viewers (looking at you, Twitter).

Sure, Snapchat — and social media, as a whole — might be more for the younger generation, but Fowler gets word back from 50-, 60- and even 70-year-olds.

“There’s a wide range of people that are at least seeing what’s going on out there a lot with me and Justin and Smylie,” Fowler said. “It’s relaxing, just to kind of make it feel a little more like just a round at home.”

Anything to calm the nerves at Oakmont.

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9

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