What you can learn from Rory McIlroy

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 24, 2011, 10:17 pm


In Rory McIlroy’s dominating performance at the U.S. Open, it’s obvious he did many things better than anyone ever has in the championship’s 111-year history. But if we look back to this performance with 20/20 hindsight, it seems McIlroy’s tournament tromp puts a stamp on multiple tasks that need to be accomplished to realize that goal. 

Notwithstanding McIlroy’s awesome display of ability, the reality is there are always mental and physical constants that remain unchanged – constants that always apply and not just to the major championships, but your club championship or heated matches between you and your playing partners. 

These following seven constants remained the same for McIlroy at Congressional and, if you can improve your play in these areas as well, you, too will realize success you never thought was possible.

1. Emotional durability and patience

It seems all winners say similar things in their post-game interviews.

“I stayed in the moment.”

“I played my own game.”

“I stayed patient.”  

These words reverberate with consistency among tournament winners yet all most people here is, “blah, blah, blah.” 

To the more informed student of the game, however, staying patient is really allowing your confidence to show up. Rory spoke of being in the moment and not taking anything for granted all week long.

He addressed his failing experience at Augusta as a learning experience to help him learn to hang in there and close the deal. He spoke of executing to the best of his ability and staying in the moment.

He said these things before he started Round 1 at Congressional and maintained this level of focus all four days. These are the kinds of statements golfers make who truly know the importance of focus when they’re playing their best golf. All winners create a level of emotional durability within themselves to persist and hang tough when times and situations look bleak. In other words, they can grind out the tough stretches until the wheels get turning the other way, and they do not allow their emotions and thoughts to create a rut and get stuck. 

McIlroy stayed patient and emotionally consistent, and played his game all 72 holes of the championship. Do the same you’ll be pleased with the results.

2.  Short putt consistency and success

Winners make the short putts. 

All told, when you ask any tournament veteran what really separates the winners, they unanimously seem to say they rolled their ball well, but made all of the “makeable” putts when they presented themselves. That is, the ability to sink the 3- and 4-foot putts for par or bogey that allow a round to sustain positive momentum.

Often, a 4-foot par putt can create confidence and even create a springboard of positive feelings that generates psychological momentum for the next series of shots and holes. 

McIlroy putted with decisiveness and control at the U.S. Open and made more than the lion’s share of the 3- and 4-footers necessary maintain his momentum and sustain confidence. 

The lesson here? Practice your short putting.

It is important to remember that it isn’t the big shots that make or break champions, but the ones close to the hole that separates the winners from the losers. 

If you don’t believe it, just ask McIlroy. Or even second-place finisher, Jason Day. Day ended the tournament with his second consecutive major championship runner-up finish because of a gritty final-day performance during which he made every putt within 10 feet. 

Learn from this, fall in love with practicing and making the short ones, and you’ll maximize the lowest score possible in every round you play.

3.  Driving accuracy and greens in regulation

Nowhere was it more evident in McIlroy’s domination than his repeated long drives in the middle of the fairway. The Northern Irishman drove the ball more consistently and hit more greens in regulation (86 percent) than almost anyone has ever done in the U.S. Open since the U.S. Golf Association started keeping official statistics nearly 30 years ago.

The combination of his length and accuracy further allowed McIlroy to hit a high percentage of greens, which thus allowed him attack difficult pins and play offensively.

The lesson to be learned here is simple: If you want to play golf well and make the rest of the game easier, understand that when you place the first domino in position, the rest follow much easier. So, if you can understand your driver can be an accuracy club as well as a distance club, you’ll like how the dominoes fall.

4.  Three-putt avoidance and easy two-putt situations

Winners have great speed and distance control with all putts. When you are having a 30- or 40-foot putt and you leave it stone dead near the hole, it makes for a much less stressful next putt. But if you leave yourself enough of those 4- to 5-footers, it’s just a matter of time that you miss one, then two, and before you know it, missing them all and your confidence dissolves.

If you want a bearing on how well McIlroy putted the long ones at Congressional, on the 72nd hole – a 75-footer from the front of the green, with difficult slopes and breaks to negotiate – he rolled it to three inches.

When you putt like that, and do it all week long, whatever you’re participating in will ultimately be yours.

5.  Avoidance of penalty shots and high number holes

Championships are usually won by a player who avoids the unnecessary high number or wastes his scoring opportunities with excessive penalty strokes. 

Nothing is more upsetting or unsettling than a mental and physical error that results in, not only a poor shot, but a shot penalized with extra strokes and a loss of distance (such as a ball out-of-bounds or in the water).  McIlroy experienced this on the last hole of his second round, where he made double-bogey.

The lesson you must learn is that no matter how well you may play, the challenge of the game may jump up and bite you. The trick is not to get overwhelmed or eaten. Rory met the challenge, shook off the demons of the final hole in the second round and continued his great play into the rest of the week.

6.  Tournament golf is “cash on the line” playing

In golf, no lead is ever safe or too big – you always want to go lower and deeper. Essentially, this is how to dominate and this is what Rory McIlroy did all week at the U.S. Open. 

The game is basically a ‘pay-as-you-go’ proposition, which means you cannot just make birdies and pars, deposit them into your golfing bank and expect to earn interest or feel your strokes are safe from inflation, depression, or bad shots. 

In golf, you always have to be moving forward. Each shot is a stroke you create and although we like to stockpile as many birdies as we can in our running total, you have to remember any lead can dissolve quicker than smoke through a keyhole. 

McIroy learned this from his Augusta experience and kept his mindset aggressive the entire week – especially during the final round. It is important to realize you have nothing until the final putt is holed and you have signed your scorecard. McIroy did this shot after shot until he was done and has his hands on his first major championship trophy because of it. 

Moving forward and not trying to protect your collection is how great champions are made.

7. Emotional bounce back (letting go of past mistakes and moving forward)

Perhaps what we can learn most from our new U.S. Open champion is that past mistakes do not have to predict or influence the present situation. 

Every time you tee it up in a tournament, it is a new performance, a new day and a new opportunity to display your talent. Past failures are just that: performances in the past; history that cannot be changed. All you have is the present and if you learn from past failings to influence your present moments, you will moving into a positive growth situation.

Rory McIlroy took this thought to heart and displayed a great bounce-back victory in his first major since his final-round 80 after leading through 54 holes of the Masters.

McIroy had always maintained he was not emotionally scarred by that, and was consistent in expressing to the media he had learned a major lesson in closing the deal in important tournaments. His record score of 16-under 268 at Congressional proved he was able to compartmentalize Augusta and move into the present.

All golfers can learn this most important lesson: Let go of your past failures and move your mind and attitude into a more promising present and future.

Note: Dr. Bob Winters is a sport psychologist in Orlando, Fla.

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.