Punch Shot: How can McIlroy get better in 2015?

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He won four times, including two majors, in 2014. So what can world No. 1 Rory McIlroy do to improve his game in 2015? GolfChannel.com's writers weigh in.

BY REX HOGGARD

He could always tidy up his short game (he ranked 123rd in sand save percentage last season on the PGA Tour), or maybe his wedge play (he was 108th in approach shots from 50 to 75 yards).

Perhaps Rory McIlroy could further refine his schedule in order to peak in April when he will head down Magnolia Lane a green jacket away from the career Grand Slam.

One can pick apart the Northern Irishman’s game ad nauseam, but considering his play last year perhaps the only thing he should look to improve upon in 2015 is his own internal dialogue.

The world No. 1 has proven himself immune to the external pressures of media scrutiny and the inherent armchair coaching that is part and parcel of being the game’s best.

What now stands between McIlroy and continued greatness are his own expectations. Too lofty an outlook and he could become susceptible to self-doubt, too little and he runs the risk of lapsing into competitive lethargy.

Striking a balance between what he hopes to accomplish and how he intends to arrive there is crucial to his ongoing development, and, short of the ubiquitous nitpicking, is the one thing he should look to improve in 2015.


BY JASON SOBEL

Rory McIlroy plays his best golf when he’s smiling and his mind is right.

Think about it: When he came down with a sudden “toothache” two years ago, he admitted that he was just mentally exhausted. Last year, his game took a dramatic turn for the better after he’d come to terms on breaking off his engagement. He started winning major championships after claiming he stopped checking his phone and laptop.

And so entering this year, the best way for McIlroy to match or even surpass last season’s historic performance has less to do with driving accuracy or putting acumen and more to do with ensuring everything in his life is copacetic off the course.

That won’t be easy, especially with an ongoing legal battle against his former management team scheduled to go to trial soon. Not to mention that, unlike those technical aspects of his game, he has little control over outside influences that could deter his mindset.

What’s become apparent, though, is that he plays his best when his mind is at ease.


BY RANDALL MELL

Keep tuning out the noise.

It looks like Rory McIlroy does a pretty good job of that as it is for a 25-year-old, but the more big events he wins, the more history he makes, the louder the chaos around him will become.

Imagine the hoopla if he wins the Masters in April to complete the Grand Slam? There will always be distractions. Whether it’s a high or a low in his personal life, or a bad turn in business, maybe even another lawsuit someday, there will always be challenges crowding his game.

What did John Lennon write in that song? “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans?”

McIlroy isn’t going to be at his best every time he tees it up. Nobody is. The shorter he can make his swoons, the ones every player endures, and the longer he makes his time “in the zone,” the greater his fame will become.

His focus, his ability to tune out what doesn’t matter, will serve him well this coming year and beyond.


BY RYAN LAVNER

Let’s be serious: There’s not much Rory McIlroy needs to improve on the course in 2015.

He was third in driving distance. He led the PGA Tour in the strokes gained-tee to green statistic. He made the most birdies per round. He had the lowest scoring average.

Maybe you could point to his shoddy bunker play (123rd), or his short wedge shots (108th from 50-75 yards), or his mid-length putting (155th from 20-25 feet), but realistically none of those stats held him back during a two-major, four-win season that rocketed him back to world No. 1.

So what McIlroy canimprove in 2015 has nothing to do with his performance on the course. It’s what he does away from it, with the myriad distractions that come with being one of the most recognizable athletes on the planet.

Last year, he was embroiled in a court case against his former management company (the trial begins next month) and broke off his engagement to tennis player Caroline Wozniacki. The year prior, he was breaking in new equipment and providing plenty of fodder for the tabloids.

His court case is inevitable, but McIlroy would do well to eliminate some of the drama that has plagued him the past few years – for his own sanity, if nothing else. 


BY WILL GRAY

Rory McIlroy doesn’t have much room for improvement after a torrid close to 2014, but one area that could use a tune-up is consistency. Sure, when the Ulsterman is “on” he is nearly unbeatable, a gear the likes of which we rarely see. But when things went south last year, the product was often a nine-hole stretch of 40+ or a round well over par, a scoring balloon that was seemingly isolated to Fridays for parts of the spring.

McIlroy knows what it takes to win on the game’s biggest stages, but improvement will come when his bad holes, rounds and tournaments become better.

He began to turn a corner in this department last year when he salvaged multiple top-25 finishes despite those scoring outliers, but if McIlroy is going to be (justifiably) compared to Tiger Woods, he’ll need to measure himself against Woods’ incredibly high standard of excellence during those weeks when things weren’t quite firing on all cylinders.

It seems like a minor tweak, but it’s hard to offer much counsel to a man with a major trophy in each hand.