Rory's guiding light
Presence of boyhood coach Bannon can ease McIlroy struggles with new clubs
RORY McILROY'S coach Michael Bannon stands out like a lighthouse in a storm-tossed sea. Amid the hullabaloo around the 23-year-old's decision to switch to Nike clubs, Bannon provides a rock-steady reference point for McIlroy, helping ensure his confidence remains watertight.
The world No 1 is tough enough mentally, one suspects, to ride out the current storm. Yet any potential for self-doubt with his technique following recent disappointing performances is eliminated when Bannon, a quiet, unflappable constant in his life since boyhood, is at McIlroy's side.
Bannon flew to West Palm Beach on Sunday. He will be with McIlroy for this week's defence of his Honda Classic title in whistling ocean breezes which make PGA National one of the toughest venues on the PGA Tour, plus next week's Cadillac World Golf Championship, a short drive down the south Florida coast in Doral.
The decision by McIlroy last summer to invite his swing coach to join him full-time on Tour, requiring Bannon to resign as head professional at Bangor Golf Club, certainly appears inspired right now.
His missed cut at Abu Dhabi last month and Thursday's defeat against Shane Lowry in the first round of the Accenture Match Play at Dove Mountain represented a nightmare start to McIlroy's reputed $20m-per-annum deal with Nike.
However, his performance off the tee in Tucson suggested McIlroy had ironed out glaring problems he had with Nike's Covert driver in Abu Dhabi.
Meanwhile, adding a few ounces to the head of his Method putter made it feel more comfortable in his hands at the Ritz-Carlton Resort last week.
This left one issue to resolve ... a tendency to hit iron shots right of target, which he insisted was a timing issue, something he and Bannon should resolve with little difficulty.
Former Tour pro Gary Murphy put the thoughts of many into words last weekend by saying on radio the only slight fear he had for McIlroy was that his recent efforts might cause the youngster to question his technique.
With Bannon on the case, however, the prospects of that happening are remote. Irish golf rightly takes pleasure in McIlroy's record-breaking feats at the Majors and his emergence as the best player on the planet.
However, the part Bannon played in helping bring a prodigy to full potential is a source of pride for his fellow teaching professionals on this island.
Brendan McDaid, one of Ireland's top coaches and long-time mentor to European Tour player Peter Lawrie, says: "It's brilliant that we have an Irish PGA professional as coach to the world No 1, someone who has worked with him since childhood.
"The beauty of this for me is that Rory has stayed with Michael. That and the fact he asked him to come out on Tour says it all, because any of the top coaches in the world would jump at the chance to work with Rory."
McDaid, who has moved his base from Rathsallagh GC to Spawell, goes on: "We're all in awe of Rory's swing. He's incredibly good and Michael has helped him do it in his own way.
"For me, having the opportunity to help somebody as talented as Peter has been fantastic, a real privilege," he continues. "But if you get to No 1, for a coach that's definitely a dream.
"It's also a serious responsibility and Michael should be very proud of what he's done. I think he's very sound. As a teacher, he clearly has strong and very solid principles and sticks to them."
Many golf coaches have become celebrities in their own right, like Butch Harmon, David Leadbetter, Pete Cowen and Hank Haney. Yet Bannon shuns the spotlight.
"When you have a chat with him, there's no airs or graces. He remains a PGA pro like the rest of us and he has certainly not let any of the limelight get in his head," McDaid explains.
For the immediate future, Bannon's time will be spent on Tour, but the glory of Irish golf is that our top teachers, men like McDaid, are accessible to the ordinary golfer.
McIlroy clearly endured teething troubles with his Nike equipment in Abu Dhabi but McDaid believes the change of clubs still has been overblown, saying: "It's given ye guys in the media a field day."
McDaid insists that McIlroy, even if he stayed with Titleist, was likely to have a levelling-off period after scaling such heady heights in the second half of 2012.
"That's the way it is in professional golf. I certainly don't see any cause for concern," he says.
"If I was world No 1 and had Rory's talent, I'd focus on the Majors because they're all that really matter. I think he's going to have a fantastic year."