Wednesday 18 September 2019

'Impossible shot' in midst of ocean gale exemplifies extra-special talent

Karl MacGinty

RORY McILROY sent one loud and clear message with his record-breaking US PGA Championship victory at Kiawah Island... there really are no limits to what this gifted 23-year-old can achieve.

For example, Nick Faldo didn't even bat an eye when asked if he thought McIlroy would become the first golfer from Europe to achieve a career Grand Slam.

"Well, yeah," the Englishman replied emphatically. "Rory's got half of them and he's right there. He's got it all."

The six-times Major champion has known McIlroy since age 12, when he first linked up with the Nick Faldo Series and few are better equipped to recognise the factors in his game which make this 23-year-old exceptional.

Yet nobody has been closer, literally, to McIlroy on the golf course than his caddie of five years, Dubliner JP Fitzgerald, who insisted nothing the Holywood youngster does could ever catch him unawares.

"I wasn't surprised at the way he played (at Kiawah) because I called it at the British Open," Fitzgerald explained. "I said, 'the way this guy's hitting the ball, he's going to destroy fields'.

"He was playing that well in practice, I knew if it wasn't going to be that week it would happen soon," added the caddie. "Yes, you could say he destroyed everyone at Congressional, but the conditions on the Ocean Course were very different. You wouldn't have thought they'd suit him."

Fitzgerald had a close-up view of many superlative shots by McIlroy on the Ocean Course, especially on Sunday as he compiled that sensational 66 on a course far more treacherous than Congressional.

Yet he nominated the 220-yard 4-iron he played to a vicious left pin at 14 on Friday as the shot that best exemplified McIlroy's courage and skill.

The ocean gales were howling in off his left shoulder as McIlroy attempted a shot to a flag many of his peers described as impossible. "Trying to hold a shot like that against the wind is a big challenge. It takes a long time to learn it, but he has cracked it.

"You can see he has this ability to hit shots like that 4-iron. It's the result of hard work and practice. It wasn't a shot he had before but he's worked on it and it paid off here."

Fitzgerald smiled as he recounted his conversation with McIlroy on the tee at 18 last Sunday. "He said, 'we won our first Major by eight, let's do it again'. Then he gets the birdie. Incredible."

He revealed McIlroy's morale has been high since Firestone, when Dave Stockton spoke with the youngster about his occasional downbeat demeanour on the golf course, urging him to lighten up, enjoy himself and smile a bit more.

Faldo's analysis of McIlroy's game and the effortless power he seems to generate from his swing is revealing.

From the start, he was struck by "the rhythm and wonderful elasticity" in Rory's swing.

Though slight as a boy, McIlroy still could hit the ball phenomenal distances.

"He had something in his hip action," Faldo explained. "When they go on these computers now and get a readout, he can move his hips at 770 degrees per second, which supposedly is twice as fast as anybody else.

"He has twice as much range of motion and his hip rotation is twice as fast and that's why he can hurtle it out there as far as anybody."

Irish Independent

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