Sunday 25 February 2018

Time for Rory to forget what Jack says and do what Jack did

Karl MacGinty

Never mind the naysayers, Rory McIlroy is not a bad putter - he just doesn't truly believe he's a great one!

Yet, regardless of his performance in Tucson or Palm Beach over the past fortnight, McIlroy still can relieve Phil Mickelson of the Green Jacket at next month's Masters.

Sure, Graeme McDowell's superlative final-round 64 at the Honda Classic strongly suggests he has regained the form which carried him to US Open glory.

McDowell will be armed with the confidence of a Major champion at the Masters, not to mention this week's Cadillac Championship -- the Portrush man, McIlroy and Padraig Harrington represent Ireland in the elite World Championship field at Doral.

In contrast with his doughty fellow Ulsterman, McIlroy's high ball-flight exposed him to the full rigours of the cruel sea breezes which swept PGA National for 54 holes of the Honda.

McIlroy finished tied 70th on 16-over with Ernie Els and Jhonny Vegas but has time to repair any damage well before the Masters, with a visit to Doral, where he's been playing since the age of eight, offering the perfect antidote.

Forget last year's missed cut at Augusta, where McIlroy plainly was at a low ebb after struggling with a lower back problem through the opening months of the season. Augusta National so perfectly fits his game, one can't help feeling Bobby Jones and Alister Mackenzie had guys like McIlroy in mind when they created this golfing masterpiece.

McIlroy's status in golf is best measured by the support he received in recent days from Jack Nicklaus following his assertion that the long game is "the biggest part of golf".

"I agree with Rory," said Nicklaus. "When we had lunch last year, I told Rory I never practised my short game because I felt if I can hit 15 greens a round, hit a couple of par-fives in two and can make all my putts inside 10 feet, who cares where I chip it?"

That the most successful player in history sees a kindred spirit in McIlroy is a great compliment. Yet the 21-year-old might be best advised in this instance to overlook what Jack says and pay heed instead to what Jack did.

Nicklaus reputedly wasn't golf's greatest chipper but he was a fearsome putter, who believed he was entitled to make every putt inside 10 feet.

At least that's how it used to appear. Conversely, McIlroy's unimpressive statistics betray a lack of self-belief. In 2010, for example, McIlroy was 135th in the US for holing putts inside five feet and ranked 167th between five and 10 feet. At the Honda, where McIlroy missed nine times from inside six feet (as opposed to just once by McDowell), he exuded an air of uncertainty as he stood over several of his shorter putts.

Yet McIlroy's putting is peerless when the adrenalin flows, as it did during his spectacular surge to victory at Quail Hollow last summer.

You don't make it into the world's top 10 and stay there -- as McIlroy, currently No 8, has done for much of the past 15 months -- without being a good putter.


As McIlroy prepares for his 100th individual event as a professional this week, the only element he's missing is that unyielding sense of entitlement which Nicklaus exuded on the greens, yet it's something McIlroy can acquire.

In his book 'Putting Out Of Your Mind', Dr Bob Rotella told a story which perfectly illustrated the uncanny ability of Nicklaus to banish negative thoughts.

During a presentation to a group of eager golfers, Jack commented that he never three-putted on the back nine of a Major and never missed from inside six feet at the last hole at a tournament.

When he opened the floor to questions, a man put up his hand, saying: "Jack, you say you've never missed from inside six feet on the last hole of a Major, but I was watching you in last year's US Seniors Open and that's exactly what you did. I have it on video tape. I can mail it to you."

"There's no need to send me anything, sir," Jack retorted. "I was there. I've never three-putted the last hole of a tournament!"

Rejoicing in this remarkable display of selective memory, Dr Rotella wrote: "Jack Nicklaus probably has missed more putts than your entire Saturday foursome combined, but he's blessed with a natural tendency to forget them. Jack remembers instead the putts he's made, the putts that'd help him be confident the next time he has a critical 10-footer.

"Changing the way you remember is half the battle in changing the way you perceive yourself as a putter," Rotella explains. "And changing your self-perception is half the battle in developing into a great putter."

McGinley has hire hopes

PAUL McGINLEY may be scrambling for confidence on Tour, but the Ryder Cup hero's innovative off-course business is going from strength to strength.

McGinley and fellow Dubliner Tony Judge last summer introduced for golfers hoping to beat hefty airline charges for bringing their clubs on holiday.

Around 1,000 sets a month have been rented since the operation opened last summer in Faro. Malaga came on line on March 1 and the service will be available to visitors to Dublin from April 1, with destinations as far apart as Edinburgh and Turkey expected to open in the near future.

Maguires can rule the roost

COMING so soon after her twin sister Leona's sensational win in the Portuguese Stroke Play Championship, Lisa Maguire's brilliant victory in last weekend's Spanish Ladies Open suggests Slieve Russell's 16-year-olds Curtis Cup starlets could carve up the women's amateur international scene between them this season.

Lisa now joins world No 5 Leona in the top-20 of the amateur global rankings. Given the slim prospect of an Irish professional qualifying for the European Solheim Cup team to face the US at Killeen Castle in September, one can't help feeling this prestigious event visits our shores four years too early.

Irish Independent

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