Kenyon holds key for Rory and Ryder Cup hopes
Published 21/09/2016 | 02:30
No matter how fiercely the debate rages about the importance of the captains, of team chemistry, of home advantage, or of that ping pong table in the US team-room, the overwhelming consensus is that the Ryder Cup essentially comes down to putting.
So it is no wonder that Darren Clarke is so keen for Phil Kenyon to be on that chartered aeroplane to Hazeltine next week. The Englishman is putting coach to seven of Europe's 12 players. Indeed, it would make sense to call Kenyon Clarke's 'secret weapon'. If the secret was not already out.
Two weeks ago, Kenyon found himself in headlines across the world after Rory McIlroy's form on the greens was seemingly transformed overnight and the sport's superstar strode out to destroy a high-class field in Boston.
Labelled a miracle worker, Kenyon's phone was abruptly abuzz. "It was definitely an eye-opener," he said. "Nobody outside the golf world had bothered with me much before - and I kind of liked it that way."
Kenyon has been determined to maintain player-coach confidentiality - in the locker room they call this "The Yipocratic Oath" - but McIlroy has revealed why he went to Kenyon. There was the CV, and the recent successes, made more remarkable by the fact that he works with just 15 pros.
There was Henrik Stenson's Open victory in July and then an Olympic one-two as Justin Rose beat the Swede. In April, Lee Westwood finished runner-up at the Masters and in May Chris Wood won the BMW PGA Championship. Then the 21-year-old Matt Fitzpatrick took the Nordea Masters and became the youngest Englishman to qualify for the Ryder Cup in more than 30 years and all the while Andy Sullivan, the former shelf-stacker at Asda, was impressing.
For McIlroy, it was obvious whom he should seek out. After missing the cut at the US PGA at Baltusrol, with a greens "disaster-class" which he termed "pathetic", McIlroy made the call.
McIlroy's initial intention was simply to have his stroke analysed in Kenyon's state-of-the-art Southport studio.
"We have this platform on which we can adjust the slope like it's a hydraulic green," Kenyon explained. "We measure how the putts move through ultrasound. We have high-speed cameras that film the body and the roll of the balls. We use a 3D system that measures all the angular, rotations and displacements of the body. We can adjust the green, and see how players hit left-to-right putts, right-to-left, uphill downhill - all of that."
McIlroy was enthralled by the science, as well as by Kenyon. "It was supposed to be one session, just to see where I was," McIlroy said. "But we gelled well, so it was an easy decision after that."
The pair decided McIlroy should switch to a "mallet" putter, "to ensure the face is more square through impact" and to watch the Ulsterman, 130th on the PGA Tour's putting charts, suddenly holing his way to the Deutsche Bank Championship made it hard not to think of golfing alchemy.
Of course, it is not that simple. "It's a process," McIlroy said. "In fact, Phil and I are looking at this as an eight-month process so I can be completely comfortable with the putter by the Masters next April."
Wise words. Kenyon is for the long term, a truth that Stenson would be the first to acknowledge. The world No 5 linked up with Kenyon eight years ago, on the recommendation of his swing coach, the much-lauded Pete Cowen. By then, Kenyon was director of Swash Putting Ltd, the "school of excellence" set up by Harold Swash, who worked with the likes of Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie and the young Pádraig Harrington.
A friend of the family, Kenyon joined "the Putting Doctor" as a 28-year-old after seeing his own dreams of making as a pro fade, and was soon established as the European Tour's go-to specialist.
"Putting is a game within a game, isn't it?" Kenyon said. "If a pro hits what he considers to be a good drive then 99 times out of a 100 he will be on the fairway. But he can hit what he thinks is a good putt and the ball will regularly not go in. At times it's quite difficult for the player to assess why that is happening.
"My job is to help them evaluate that and put a perspective on it. If it's not a technical issue, make sure that they do not tinker along those lines."
Sometimes merely a small chat can make all the difference. That is why Clarke wants Kenyon in the party as they seek a record fourth successive Ryder Cup. However, Kenyon's wife Lindsey is expecting their first child and his "plans are all up in the air".
"My intention is to go," Kenyon added, "but when I informed Darren there was a slight chance I might not be able to, he told me, 'You had better be there, I'll get two men in balaclavas to bring you over if I have to'. Yeah, he was joking. Darren is the first to appreciate that it's family first." (© Daily Telegraph, London)