Sport Golf

Monday 22 September 2014

Spots and mirrors get McIlroy firing round the greens

Karl McGinty

Published 29/07/2014 | 02:30

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Rory McIlroy waves to the gallery on the 18th green after his third round at the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool. Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy waves to the gallery on the 18th green after his third round at the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool. Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy has been blowing more minds with his high-calibre driving than Clint Eastwood ever did as 'Dirty Harry' Callahan with that .44 Magnum.

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So much so, in fact, that one of the strongest and most impressive features of McIlroy's game over the past three months (and especially at Hoylake) has been overlooked.

Key to McIlroy's success at The Open was his precision and confidence with the putter, which used to be regarded as the weakest weapon in his armoury.

One of the pivotal moments for McIlroy in a season of dramatic changes came on the sixth green on Sunday at April's US Masters, when he discovered a fault in his alignment while putting.

He worked hard in private the following fortnight to bed in the remedy before asking short-game coach Dave Stockton to give it the once-over during a practice round at Quail Hollow.

This was perfectly in keeping with McIlroy's determination to take ownership of every element of his game, his career and, indeed, his life.

Stockton was key to McIlroy's transformation from spectacular fall-guy on Sunday at the 2011 Masters to sensational record-breaker at the US Open in Congressional 70 days later.

RHYTHM

The venerable Californian, a two-time Major winner who led the US to Ryder Cup victory in the 'War on the Shore' at Kiawah Island in 1991, helped the youngster rediscover the natural rhythm in his putting stroke.

Also an influential figure in McIlroy's second record-breaking Major success at Kiawah in 2012, Stockton remains a trusted advisor, I'm reliably informed.

Still, a piece by Brian Wacker on PGA Tour.com last week was interesting. In it, Stockton revealed the last time he gave McIlroy a formal lesson was before the Masters.

And, Wacker wrote, "since McIlroy split from fiancée Caroline Wozniacki and chucked his cell phone and computer, Stockton's lines of communication more recently have gone through caddie JP Fitzgerald if he wished to make contact".

Stockton was on a holiday in Canada with his extended family as McIlroy clinically mowed down the opposition at Royal Liverpool.

When he tuned in on TV and watched his foremost pupil hoist the Claret Jug, Stockton was enthralled when McIlroy identified 'spot' and 'process' as his two key words throughout that week.

"With my long shots," McIlroy said, "I just wanted to stick to my process, making good decisions and making good swings. Spot was for my putting. I was just picking a spot on the green and trying to roll it over my spot every time."

The coach told Wacker: "When I heard him mention 'process' and 'spot' I just about fell off my chair. Spot putting is basically what we teach."

Wacker explained: "Stockton tries to get players to simplify the stroke by getting the back of the left hand moving toward a spot and trying to get the ball to roll over it and not worry about the result – rather than trying to hit at the ball."

Clearly, McIlroy's still committed to Stockton's philosophy. Yet his vision of how to go about his business on the course (and off it) remains very much his own.

Last week, McIlroy described that moment on the sixth green on Masters Sunday as "a huge turning point ... I don't know if any of you guys watched my routine now before I play but I always spend about 15 or 20 minutes on this putting mirror before going out.

"That mirror's been a big help for me just to fix my alignment a little bit and get it right. Ever since then I've putted very well."

It was fascinating at Quail Hollow in May to hear McIlroy explain how he perfected that process before showing it to Stockton. "I wanted to try and figure it out on my own because sometimes it's better to go and create your own feelings a little bit. Sometimes if someone stands and tells you what to do, it can be hard to get it."

McIlroy went on: "He (Stockton) came down to the 16th just to see it, walked 17 and 18 with me, and that was it ... I explained that I took videos of a few things and went through it with him, just for him to try and understand what I need to do."

The pupil had taken control of the teaching process.

The results at Hoylake, where McIlroy took just 110 putts – he never exceeded more than 27 any day, had 34 one-putt greens and no three-putts – truly were Tigeresque. This, as much as his long game, suggested the dawn of a new era of domination in golf.

Michael Bannon, McIlroy's coach since boyhood, always insists the "swing is Rory's", while Stockton says the same about his putting stroke.

The 25-year-old's clear vision of where he wants to go and what he must do to get there inevitably extends into his life off the course.

This explains, in part, his desire to set up his own management company, Rory McIlroy Inc, or the blunt but brave termination of his engagement to Wozniacki after the wedding invites were posted. Clearly, he didn't feel ready for marriage and had the gumption to say stop.

Right now, he's ready to win, as one suspects he'll prove with his clubs, from driver all the way down to the putter, during this week's Bridgestone Invitational World Golf Championship at Firestone.

 

Age no barrier to tough McGrane and there's much more to come from him

Golfers don't come much tougher, mentally, than Damien McGrane.

This is the guy who held on to 'the day job' during his first two seasons on the European Tour, somehow combining a successful campaign on the road with his duties as a professional at Wexford Golf Club.

On Sunday in Moscow, Kells man McGrane, now 43, showed he's as hungry as ever to roll up his sleeves and compete with Europe's youngsters by reaching his first sudden-death play-off at the M2M Russian Open. It can be tough for men in their 40s to come to terms with giving years and many yards to the young Turks. Des Smyth, whose record as the oldest winner on Tour was broken in recent times by Miguel Angel Jimenez, admitted once that age can "start hitting you in the face, the younger kids emerging make you think, 'Maybe I'm washed-up'".

But Smyth didn't dally in that phase, recalling: "I remember being out there in my 40s getting so much pleasure."

McGrane strongly echoed that sentiment last night, saying: "I'm playing with kids these days who are half my age, but you get over that and get into the right place, mentally. You have to dig in, take stock of your strengths and convert that into something positive. Once I do that, I know I can shoot low numbers."

Though McGrane was beaten by England's David Horsey on the first tie hole and failed to add to his 2008 Volvo China Open victory, the €111,110 he banked in second made his card safe for 2015 and pushed his career earnings to €5m. Delighted that recent good golf was rewarded at last, he said: "What I have is experience, I have been down the hard road and sometimes I can call on that.

"Again (on Sunday), I played with younger men. They'd a lot more game than I did, but I'd been there a couple more times than them and was able to keep going forward.

"I've played well for the last five or six weeks, but the fairways in Moscow were generous, there were plenty of chances and my short game was good."

McGrane's seen tough times. One of many who lost their savings in the Custom House Capital debacle in 2011, he embraced the chance his career on Tour gave him to begin afresh at age 40. "That's nothing got to do with golf," he insisted. "That's business. My job is playing golf. What happens off the course is not a distraction to me."

Given the quality of his golf, there are many more miles and big-tournament cheques in the offing for McGrane, a man patently still capable of wringing the utmost out of his game.

Irish Independent

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