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Simplicity is still the name of the game for Bannon

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Rory McIlroy has remained unswervingly loyal to his coach Michael Bannon, who has been ever-present by his side since their practice sessions together at Bangor Golf Club. Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy has remained unswervingly loyal to his coach Michael Bannon, who has been ever-present by his side since their practice sessions together at Bangor Golf Club. Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy has remained unswervingly loyal to his coach Michael Bannon, who has been ever-present by his side since their practice sessions together at Bangor Golf Club. Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images

Agents and sponsors come and go as surely as the Portrush tide, but for Rory McIlroy one precious constant endures in the form of a gentle, red-haired, reticent figure who two years ago could still be found charging £40 a lesson on the outskirts of Belfast.

Michael Bannon has been the young phenomenon's ever-present mentor since their practice sessions together in the drizzle at Bangor GC, just up the North Down coastal path from McIlroy's hometown of Holywood. He was the first person, in the gathering gloom of Valhalla on Sunday night, who the four-time Major champion looked to embrace, as if acknowledging his debt of gratitude.

Forget, for a moment, all the technobabble spouted by Sean Foley, Tiger Woods' coach, about "kinetic linking". Forget the strange reverence accorded David Leadbetter, Butch Harmon and their brethren among the 'super-gurus', or the mind coaches who apparently require PhDs to tell their charges to relax a touch.

Look, instead, at the pure simplicity of the game as preached by Bannon, from whom McIlroy acquired the rudiments of his majestic swing at the age of seven, which he has merely needed to refine ever since. The same man who spent half a lifetime generously indulging some hopeless hacker's efforts at gouging nine-irons on a sodden driving range also happens to be the teacher of world's No 1 golfer.

CULTURED

So cultured are McIlroy's mechanics now that he requires few adjustments to the swing itself. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," McIlroy said. "That's my motto. I've always been that way. I feel that the work that I put into my swing between the ages of 15 and 20 is going to see me through my career.

"I know the parameters of it, and I know how to get it back on track. I've worked with Michael Bannon my whole life. Whether it is to try to get even better or look for a new challenge, I'll continue to do so."

Here the contrast with Woods, who has been preoccupied to an almost debilitating degree with trajectories and forward strains, could scarcely be starker. The microscopic analysis of his swing patterns - specifically, how they have evolved since his pomp of 2000 - has become an obsession in the US, where Golf Channel pundit Brandel Chamblee concluded one recent debate by exclaiming: "But his launch angle's 12.86!" McIlroy has no need to be told of such angles, certainly not to two decimal points, when he has the calm, sober and straightforward counsel of Bannon to draw on.

Bannon's strategic nous could be glimpsed in both of McIlroy's victorious final rounds in Majors this summer. Whether in 18 holes of careful containment, protecting an initial six-shot lead as at Royal Liverpool, or in the outrageous audacity of his 281-yard three-wood to eight feet for eagle at the 10th at Valhalla, he reflected his coach's advanced understanding of when to attack and when to defend.

"Our relationship has changed over the past few years," McIlroy explained. "Now it's about course management. He was a fairly accomplished player himself, so I have good chats with him about picking certain shots for certain situations."

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Having cultivated his own craft on the Kirkistown Castle links, buffeted by the squalls of the Irish Sea, Bannon has a cerebral approach to impart, born of often harsh experience. He contended in the 1998 Irish PGA Championship, ultimately losing in a play-off to 27-year-old Padraig Harrington, before abandoning the tour dream for a career of more understated duties at Bangor.

But from the second the scampish little Rory pitched up at his door, with a seemingly innate capacity for holding his posture through impact and turning his right shoulder towards the target, his own star rose.

Eventually, and only after helping to guide McIlroy to those startling eight-shot wins in the 2011 US Open and 2012 PGA, did he accept the call to assume the role full-time.

Such are the stresses of having a global celebrity as one's employer that Bannon can often be non-committal about McIlroy on the record, but it pays to recall his remark after the victory at Congressional three years ago, when he said: "I feel very honoured to have been able to coach this guy to where he is now, but I'm also very humble about it. Rory owns his swing. He hits the shots."

A compelling reason why McIlroy shows Bannon such unswerving loyalty lies in this very humility: the comfort of a coach who will seek not to take advantage of him, or to divert the spotlight to himself, but simply to advise. Amid all the hurtling changes in his life Bannon remains the hardiest perennial, arguably the man he needs most of all. © Daily Telegraph, London)


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