Back then, when McIlroy was winning the medal for low amateur as Padraig Harrington won the tournament in a playoff over Sergio Garcia, the course was mostly green, with considerable rough and cool temperatures that made for stern, if not out of control, scoring conditions.
The eve of the British Open felt like cramming for a final exam, a multiple choice one with no obvious answers.
"You've got the tee times are in there and I was at like 1.30, " he told Golf Australia. "With links golf, you have to adapt".
Day has arrived for his latest Open tilt in a far more positive headspace than previous year, when the burdens of holding down the top ranking - then losing it - and his mother's cancer scare weighed him down at Birkdale. If he can marry the teenage mind with the adult game, his long wait could come to an end.
That happened in 2015 at St. Andrews, where much of the third round was delayed due to windy conditions; balls would not stop rolling on greens.
"It's been good to see some guys that are pretty experienced around these courses, seeing how they go about it, so I got a lot of out of the last two days".
"There's not going to be one player in this field that has a game plan on Wednesday night and is going to stick to that game plan the whole way around for 72 holes, " McIlroy said.
"That's the plan this week - be a little more assertive with my speed and I feel if I do that I can hole some putts". "The mallet putter has grooves in it so it does roll initially a little bit faster and a little bit more true".
"I enjoy this type because it is so creative".
"Hopefully I can keep hitting the ball as well as I've been doing in practice and if I can do that I think it'll be a good week". "(I) just need to lay some cleaner golf, and who knows?"
This is Tiger Woods playing in a major, so of course it's classified as must-watch television.
"Shinnecock [Hills] was a fairly brutal test at the US Open, but I learnt a lot from that so I hope I can really draw on a lot of that experience for this week", Herbert said. "The bunkers here are truly a water hazard".
"There are a few less gorse bushes too that they have taken out on some holes so you can be aggressive if you want to".
Next month, Thomas defends his PGA Championship title at Bellerive. He started strong out of the gates in the first round past year at Royal Birkdale, shooting a 5-under 65, eventually winning The Open by three strokes at 12-under.
'It was actually nice playing with Jon because the first instinct he has is get up on a tee box and pull a driver out of the bag, ' he said. I mean I was just trying to soak everything in and I was just so grateful to be here.
"It takes out the bigger clubs and I think I'm long enough to be able to hit it". It feels like a while since I won at Liverpool and it's been a while since I won a major championship.