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Rosaforte Report: Rory, Chimps and Billions

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In this Rosaforte Report: Rory McIlroy explains the stark contrast in the content of his at-home consumption, what Justin Thomas considered his best shot in the 2017 PGA, and how a small fix cleared up things for Patrick Reed.

What did Rory McIlroy do in his three weeks off since finishing T-5 at The Masters? Went home to Ireland, binge watched “Billions” and read two books, “The Chimp Paradox: The Acclaimed Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness”, and “Essentialism, the Disciplined Pursuit of Less”.

I talked to Rory after his opening-round 69 in the Wells Fargo Championship and he explained that one of his New Year’s resolutions was to read more. He had read “The Chimp Paradox” before, but there were a few things that happened to McIlroy in his final round at Augusta that related to him, so he wanted to go over the text and see if anything stuck out or resonated in his quest to complete the Grand Slam. “Sort of the fight between the left side of the brain and the right side of the brain, that sort of stuff,” he said.

“Essentialism” was a book turned on to him by close friend Jimmy Dunne, the club president at Seminole and senior managing principal of Sandler O’Neill, an investment banking firm and brokerage dealer based in New York.

“Jimmy’s the one being pulled in opposite directions,” McIlroy explained, “as I am. It’s a good reminder, when you wake up in the morning and say, ‘What’s the most important thing today?’” Part of that philosophy entails learning how to say no, which McIlroy experiences with so many demands on his time.

As for “Billions,” McIlroy, who turned 29 on Friday, caught up by watching the entire second season. He was into the Season 3, when he finally needed to see a bit of daylight and get outside – go for walks and start doing his usual thing.

When asked about the dichotomy between the books he read and the plot involving billionaire Bobby Axelrod, the win-at-all-costs hedge fund manager in his TV show, McIlroy broke into a big smile and admitted, “It gives you balance.”

Give it your best shot: The one moment that rushed back to PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas when he returned to Quail Hollow was not his chip-in on the 13th hole that triggered, “The most berserk I’ve ever been on the golf course.” It was the adrenaline-aided 7-iron from 219 yards over the water into the 17th green on Sunday. “I took a picture of that hole today and sent it to my parents,” Thomas said after the Wells Fargo pro-am on Wednesday, “because it’s the best shot I ever hit in my life.”

With some back-reporting, I found the decision-making with caddie Jimmy Johnston to be most interesting piece of the process. Johnston pulled out his yardage book to confirm it was 197 yards to carry the water and land on the front of the green, plus 22 yards to the pin.

“He’s like, this has got to be a 7-iron,” is what Johnston remembers from their conversation. “I remember saying, ‘You know you’ve got 197 to cover, right?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I know it, but I’m so pumped up right now so I’m going to hit 7-iron.’”

Johnson backed away and thought, “You know what? I’ve earned his confidence and he’s earned mind so let’s go with it. Under normal circumstances, it’s a 6-iron all day.”

Hearing the compression and seeing the ball flight, Johnston knew it was the right call. Thomas “hit the perfect shot,” with the ball releasing to 15 feet for a birdie, which gave him a cushion going up 18.

“One of the best shots I ever saw,” Johnston said. “And I saw a few good ones last year, too, leading up to that.” On the top of that list was the 3-wood Thomas smoked into the 18th green at Erin Hills to set up an eagle, which tied the major championship record of 63 and allowed Thomas to become the first player to shoot 9 under in a U.S. Open.

See what you did?: New information from Masters champion Patrick Reed was the revelation of his wife’s urging to get his eyes checked in the week prior to Augusta. “First week ever wearing contacts … and I go ahead and make every putt I look at and win a golf tournament,” Reed said in his news conference at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I would say, at least for a year, he’s been hitting the ball off the tee, looking at me, and saying, ‘Where is it?’” said Reed’s caddie and brother-in-law, Kessler Karain, who would respond for the most part, “center of fairway.”

It took Kessler’s sister, who is Reed’s wife, to goad Patrick into visiting an optometrist at their home in Houston. “We’d been on him about it. I told him, ‘I think you need to get your eyes checked.’”

There was an adjustment period putting the contact lenses in, which led to some teasing by people in his family and camp when Reed traveled to Augusta on a scouting mission the week before the tournament. “The joke for the first two days was how long it took to get his contracts in this morning,” said swing coach Kevin Kirk.

Once Reed adjusted, Karain and Kirk both noticed the biggest difference – as Patrick alluded – was on the greens. While Kirk was concerned over depth perception, Reed adjusted quickly and started seeing grain and shadows that he wasn’t able to before see. He led the Masters field in putting average, putts per round, and one-putts (38).

“The thing that it helped was eye fatigue,” Karain said. “Imagine trying to squint for that long. Once the eyes get tired, performance starts to dwindle as well.”

Going into the Masters, Reed ranked 75th on Tour in strokes gained: putting. The week of the Masters, Reed’s putting average was third best in the field. As Kirk told me, “Obviously on that level, sometimes small things are big things.”