Monday 22 January 2018

Putting woes force Rory McIlroy to change grip for Doral test

Rory McIlroy reacts to a missed putt during the Northern Trust Open last month. McIlroy will change his grip for this week's WGC event at Doral (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Rory McIlroy reacts to a missed putt during the Northern Trust Open last month. McIlroy will change his grip for this week's WGC event at Doral (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Brian Keogh

Rory McIlroy might be ambivalent about the entire colourful gamut of US Presidential candidates but when it comes to his putting the world No 3 has to take an iron grip on affairs.

Relieved that as a UK citizen he doesn't have to vote for the likes of Donald Trump, his host at this week's WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral's Blue Monster, the only dilemma between right and left facing the Holywood star is the position of his hands on the putter.

For the vast majority of the 211 events he has played since turned professional more than eight-and-a-half years ago, McIlroy has putted with his right hand below his left.

This week, the change triggered by a series of pulled putts en route to a missed cut in last week's Honda Classic, the 26-year-old has decided to follow the likes of world No 1 Jordan Spieth, Pádraig Harrington and Shane Lowry and putt with his left hand below his right.

It might smack of desperation with Augusta's slick greens just a month away but when Masters champion Spieth is taking 10 fewer strokes on the greens per tournament and is ranked second strokes gained putting to McIlroy's 189th, the move to the cack-handed style is understandable.

"I'm going to give it a try this week and see where we go with it," said McIlroy, who is second favourite for the green jacket behind Spieth. "But it felt really, really good. Roll of the ball is really good. The contact is much better, and it really just takes my right hand out of it.

"Everything that I have done in my putting the last few years is all to try and lead with the left hand and really just have the right on there as more of a guide than anything else. But I felt like my right hand was becoming a little bit too active in the stroke. So this is a perfect way to sort of deactivate that, and I really just feel like I'm controlling the putting stroke with my left hand only."

McIlroy said he experimented with the left-below-right style briefly in 2008, shortly after he turned professional.

But while he has since won 19 professional tournaments, including four Majors, with a conventional putting grip, he's determined to stick with the new method for more than one day or even one event.

"I feel like it's something I'm going to stick with regardless of what the outcome is tomorrow or this week or next week," he said ahead of date with world No 1 Spieth and world No 2 Jason Day today.


"I really do feel like it helps me put a stroke on it that I want to. It's a great feeling. I feel like it gives my putting stroke a bit more of a better rhythm, as well, a better flow.

"Look, if it doesn't work right from the get-go tomorrow, you're not going to see me on Friday morning putting conventional again. It's something I'm going to stick with for a while."

McIlroy insisted that the change was triggered by some pulled putts at the Honda Classic last Friday and not suggested by his entourage or Dave Stockton Jnr.

"I missed a couple of putts on Friday at Honda that I felt, even before I made contact with the ball, that my right hand had [come across] and I missed it left," he said. "So I said, I need to do something here.

"I was playing around with a few different grips on the putting green over the weekend. This one felt more natural to me because I've done it before and I do it quite a lot when I'm just practising in drills, as well. So I thought, 'Why not give it a go?'

"I sent (caddie) JP (Fitzgerald) and (personal assistant) Sean (O'Flaherty) a couple of videos yesterday and said I'm going with it. I'm going to stick with it and go with it. It's felt good, so we'll see how it holds up tomorrow."

As for the frustration of last week's missed cut, he was philosophical.

"I've missed enough cuts in my career to know that it isn't the end of the world," said McIlroy, who has now missed 32 cuts in 211 events since he turned professional - some 15pc. "And it's great, in golf, you have the next week, you have an opportunity to go back out there and rectify it and play well. It's definitely not the last cut I'm going to miss, but I've accepted that and that's golf. You're not going to play great all the time, and as long as they can be few and far between, I think I'll be okay."

As for US politics, he was happy to show he's got a firm grip on reality.

"I'm not American," he said with a grin. "I mean, he's not going to be the leader of my country!" Adding that he'd seen some of the "shocking" presidential debates, he said bluntly: "I can't vote, and if I were to vote, I'm not sure I would want to vote for any of the candidates."

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