McIlroy must now persevere with fine-tuning his putting technique, writes John McHenry.
“If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”
- Michael Jordan
For those not paying enough recent attention, it would be very easy to categorise Rory McIlroy’s latest victory last weekend at the Deutsche Bank as yet another tournament won by the most athletic player with the most talent but that assumption does his victory no justice at all.
You see, despite his obvious physical prowess, his victory was fashioned more from his improved putting stats and his mental strength than anything else and it may just spell the start of the realisation of his true potential in the game.
For years now, McIlroy’s imperious ball-striking ability has masked the many flaws in his game, most especially his temperament and his putting. It has also afforded him the luxury of carrying some additional baggage, like him being the sole decision maker rather than delegating some of that responsibility to others by way of lessening his load. Such has been his relative un-competitiveness all year, that I wonder now with this victory if perhaps we are now seeing an all-important change in his mindset?
For many years now I have been talking about the need for McIlroy to fundamentally address his putting, for a couple of reasons.
The first was factual. The putting statistics compiled over a competitive season don’t lie and McIlroy simply hasn’t been at the races when his stats are compared to his closest rivals like Jason Day and Jordan Spieth in the world rankings.
In fact, such is McIlroy’s ability from tee to green, that he regularly makes up this difference, (the five or six shots lost on the greens over 72 holes) on his rivals but bad putters on tour are like dogs chasing cars: they simply don’t last.
The second and the most important reason for McIlroy to address his putting problems, something which he alluded to himself during his interviews on Monday, was the compound effect that his improved performance on the putting greens last week had on the rest of his game – namely that it eased the requirement or need for him to always chase the perfect shot or one which got the ball as close to the hole as possible all of the time.
So what can he take and we learn from his victory at the Deutsche Bank? Well, for a proud and stubborn McIlroy at this point in time, it is simply the validation that his game is back on the right track and that he and the team assembled around him know what they are doing.
That said, he must now persevere with what has been working on, that of fine tuning his putting routine and building his confidence as he still has much to play for this season, like the FedEx Cup the Ryder Cup and the Race to Dubai. Confidence builds confidence.
Another part of McIlroy’s performance last week that was so heartening, was his mental determination to overcome his very poor start to his round on Friday afternoon, when he began with a bogey and triple bogey over the opening holes.
On form, McIlroy has proven he wants to be part of the battle but the same can not always be said when he is off-form and last week he gave himself every reason to “walk away” from the challenge. Instead, he elected to stay and fight and in doing so he turned a negative experience into a positive one.
That McIlroy was only one of three players in the final four threesomes to better par on the day, when shooting a final round of 65 (-6) over the very windy and difficult TPC Boston course, (for his first on the PGA Tour since he won the Wells Fargo Championship in May 2015), only speaks volumes about his true potential. It now feels that this winning experience has done more for McIlroy. It has left a lasting impression.
In professional sport, you have to be able to adapt. Things nearly always goes wrong. McIlroy knows this. But his ability last week to mentally get on with it by not worrying about something he couldn’t change bodes well for his ambitions, both in the short and long term.
If these two traits alone - better putting stats and greater mental strength - continue to improve, it may well mean that the very best is yet to come from Mr McIlroy.
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