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The making of McIlroy

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Matt Slater | 08:53 UK time, Tuesday, 21 June 2011

When Rory McIlroy blew a four-shot lead at the Masters in April, those still able to watch the gruesome images thought they could see a pattern amid the mayhem - the lad is too rash, the decision-making too wobbly and he can't putt.

But those who knew McIlroy best saw something different. They witnessed an irrepressible talent learn a bit more about his craft and a 21-year-old, already mature beyond his years, gain more experience of life's creeks and hollows.

And to get a second opinion on the putting, they called in Dave Stockton. The putting maestro met McIlroy a few weeks after his Augusta ordeal and 10 minutes later the young Northern Irishman's problems were over.

Ten minutes. That is all it took for Stockton to fix a slight flaw in McIlroy's hand position, remind him to slow down and give him the confidence to believe every putt is going in. Which is pretty much what happened at the US Open these last few days.

"I didn't do anything!" the American told me on Monday. "He already knew how to putt - I just made a few observations and perhaps gave him some belief to trust his instincts again."

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McIlroy reflects on his US Open win at Congressional

To try and identify where these instincts come from is to try to explain genius as if it is something we can all attain: we can't - but what makes that more palatable is when genius is bestowed on a decent sort who respects the gift they have been given.

McIlroy was barely two when people at his father's club started to notice him. Gerry was a bartender at Holywood Golf Club and Rory would spend all afternoon putting on the carpet and showing off his 40-yard drives outside.

At home, he would putt until dark in the garden and chip balls from the hallway into the washing machine in the kitchen.

By the time Gerry's father asked Holywood's club pro Michael Bannon to take Rory under his wing, the youngster was addicted.

"He loved golf," Bannon told me. "He was always about the place, watching his dad, the other players or videos in the club shop.

"And he was already a player. He could shape the ball in the air, he could hit it high or low, he could play bunker shots - it was obvious he was special. But it wasn't until he was about 15 that we realised just how special.

"He had already won a world under-10's title at Doral (in Florida) but you never know how somebody will develop at that age. But he won two big Irish amateur titles that year (2004) and has never looked back."

The modest Bannon, like Stockton, is quick to downplay his part in the development of golf's next superstar.

Ask him about that free-flowing swing and he says it is all Rory's ("we just grooved it over the years"), ask him about his charge's perceived putting problems and he says it was only a matter of Rory rediscovering his feel for putter, ask him about McIlroy's potential and he waxes lyrical.

"I think we saw him in full flow (at the US Open)," Bannon said. "But it was just a glimpse of what he can do. My theory is that Rory is the complete package, he just needs to be more consistent. His course management is coming on and he never stops trying to improve. I think he's the best golfer in the world."

McIlroy (right) with father Gerry and the US Open trophy - photo: Getty

Having seen what he just did to a USGA course and a world-class field, it is hard to disagree and an example of McIlroy's pursuit of excellence can be seen in his appetite for old-fashioned hard work and new-fangled sports science.

Last autumn, shortly after his contribution to Europe's Ryder Cup win in Wales, McIlroy was troubled by pain in his back. Chubby Chandler, his agent, called in the man who had helped turn Lee Westwood into a fitter, more resilient athlete.

That man was Dr Stephen McGregor, a strength and conditioning expert who is often referred to as Westwood's "fitness coach", which is something of an understatement given his scientific pedigree.

"The thing to remember about golfers is that they cover as much ground in a round as Premier League midfielders do in a match," the Yorkshire-based McGregor said.

"And the strains they put on their spine and lower body are pretty much the worst things you can do - the flexing and huge shifts in force.

"But the science has caught up and we can now analyse exactly what muscles are being activated in a swing and work out how to increase a player's longevity and boost performance."

For McIlroy this meant more work on his "glutes", or buttocks, to those who prefer Anglo-Saxon.

Chandler, who was alerted to McIlroy's precocious ability by one of his first clients Darren Clarke, says this is just an indication of how the hottest property in golf is building solid foundations for a long stay at the top.

"He's going to get wiser," the journeyman pro turned golfing kingmaker explained.

"This is only his third professional win. He's going to win more and get an older head on his shoulders so when he's 25 he'll have everything. There's a lot more to come. I would be amazed if Rory doesn't get to number one within a year (Sunday's win took him to fourth in the rankings).

"From way before he turned pro at 18 it was very obvious he had a special talent and very few weaknesses. You could see he was a good kid from a great family and now he is working that little bit harder than he did as a teen. But even then there was no obvious thing to stop him from getting to where he is now."

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Nine-year-old Rory McIlroy dreams of golfing glory

The point about McIlroy's family background was one made by Bannon too: the Holywood hero will not be changed by success, which is a testament to his parents, the aforementioned Gerry and his wife Rosie, who worked extra jobs to fund their son's dream.

If McIlroy comes across as a level-headed chap with no airs or graces it is because he is - he is not faking it and the crowds (and fellow pros) love him. This was something that Stockton noticed in the short time he worked with the new US Open champion last month.

"He reminds me of Arnold Palmer," the 1970 and '76 USPGA champion said. "He's humble and really engages with people. He looks people in the eye and is comfortable in his own skin. And he can play like Palmer too."

Chandler likens McIlroy to another charismatic great, Seve Ballesteros, who passed away last month. That was not long after the youngster's chastening experience at the Masters, a tournament the Spaniard won twice. The great man would have been impressed with his successor's resilience.

"We decided it would be a good thing for Rory to get right back on the bike so he went out to Malaysia and played great," said Chandler. "It was important because he travelled with Charl (Schwartzel, the man who profited from his Masters mishap) and it let all the emotion drain away.

"I went to see him after he got back and he told me he really didn't know what all the fuss was about - I remember him saying it's just a golf tournament and I'm only 21. And then he went to Haiti as a Unicef ambassador and that helped put things in even better perspective. All the poverty and destruction really did confirm that it's only a game."

It is easy to believe that when you watch McIlroy play. Golf just looks fun and oh so simple, which is perhaps the greatest trick any magician can perform. I suspect he will perform his next trick at Royal St George's next month.

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  • Comment number 1.

    I can't wait for the Open Championship. There's no underestimating the signifcance of this victory for Rory and the way in which he totally dominated the field. I just hope that the Open is a true reflection of the type of golf that we see in Open Championships. We need a bit of wind to blow across the links and then the real meaning of shot shaping and different types of shots will come to the fore. It would be really symbloic if Rory was to win the Open in testing consitions because no doubt that would reflect the conditions he would have been brought up on in his part of the world. I love watching the best players in the world having to 'think' their way around an Open Championship playing shots that American courses just don't cater for. Punched long irons, little bump and runs, hitting under the wind its what golf is all about. This isn't American target golf on beautifully manicured greens and fairways, it's a true reflection of how the game started and what golf is all about...

  • Comment number 2.

    A Tiger was born last weekend... I'm hoping to see a lot more Major's for this young Lad! Nice to see such an abundance of talent in the UK (specifically Ireland before people start ranting about how he's British when he wins and Irish when he loses bla bla bla ) the future of European golf is looking fantastic.... Ryder cup domination for many years to come i think

  • Comment number 3.

    After watching Mcilroy on thursday last week. It seemed pretty obvious that he was not caught in the headlights of golfs top comps. From the very first tee he was free swinging and unlike the tight fariways and water hazzards of Agusta there was nothing in the way of a successful week. But...know one could predict the unshakable form he was in. Droping 3 shots in four days on one of america's toughest courses proved his class at this level. Last week was the water shed for slimmer quicker swing speeds that the modern game provides. The new era has begun and its exciting stuff. After the carnage of tiger woods career left the game in the doldrums we can now move on with a new prince. In recent years golf memberships have been dwindling and the game lost its credibility for upstanding behanviour and sportsmanship. When the dust settles from this atstounding victory it will be the local pro beeming a boyish grin, ready to take the money of a fresh breed of golfer, seeking to emulate their new hero.

  • Comment number 4.

    Amazing performance. Just made it look so easy and he's been threatening to do it for a while now, last year's Open, this year's Masters and now he finally managed to put together 4 rounds of exquisite golf to blow everyone away when he only needed 2 great rounds.

    As for whether he's British or Irish, I don't care too much. I think people on the mainland will support him and people in the Republic will claim him as one of their own too (and why not).

    And if he's not doing well, he's probably British, not Irish as Padraig Harrington, RMc and GMAC have won 5 majors in the last 5 years between them and the mainland has only produced one major winner in 15 years (Paul Lawrie in 1999)!

    Rory aside, I would love for Lee Westwood to get a major and do it at the Open. He's in danger of turning into Monty - the best player to never win a major.

  • Comment number 5.

    I predict another media-triggered demise for a promising talent. I do not wish it, but I'm pretty sure it will happen.

  • Comment number 6.

    The world is ready for a world superstar in golf as sadly Tiger Woods is in serious decline and likely to remain so in the foreseeable future. Rory fits the bill in every respect - he is young, vibrant, talented, swashbuckling, but with an air of humility which people really engage with.

    All this said, we must be very very careful not do do what we usually do and over hype everything. Yes, he has won a major to go with his 2 other tournament victories, but strings of majors are not a foregone conclusion. You only need to look at Westwood and Garcia to see that ultimate sucess does not necessarily flow from talent & dedication. I happen to think that McIlroy does have the X factor, but I expect some very talented young players to emerge over the next 5-10 years, especially from Asia. Also, there will be huge media attention on everything he does, and time will tell whether he can handle this level of adulation and expectency that will be a constant companion every minute of every day. I like the look of the support structure around him, his parents, caddie, Chubby Ch etc, all of whom will help to deal with the media and public frenzy.

    Can anyone dominate golf in the way that Tiger has done so, I don't think so. Can Rory M develop into one of the world starts of golf for many years, I hope so. Will he remain the credit that he is to himself, his family and his sport, I am convinced so.

  • Comment number 7.

    Congrats to Rory. I would have to admit that I was very worried after the masters putting performance that he would turn into Sergio mark II, but thankfully he found his stroke very quickly and the rest is history. As for the nationality thing to get some perspective for anyone from the mainland everyone who lives there will now come from Britain so there will be no England Scotland or Wales,I can just image the outcry from all the english fans when Mr Beckham Rooney Terry have been told they are from Britain and not English ha.They like us have every right to be proud of their own nationality and show plenty of pride when they support their team or country men,in the forces you swear allegiance to the Queen who is still our sovereign too. We are our own country proud of our own nationality just like Rory and his Father who had the Northern Ireland in his hand beside the presentation ceremony and proud to be part of the (British)UK just like everybody else. Come Rory all four majors in one season would be nice.

  • Comment number 8.

    This whole British/NI thing I just don't understand. Rory is an awesome talent on a golf course and touch wood he can stay out of trouble and go on to be among the greats of JN and Palmer.

    As an aussie was very proud of Day. After finishing second in the Masters he could have just drifted away, but he has gone on and has been beaten by a phenom performance by Rory. Looking forward to seeing these two young guns battle it out for many years to come.

  • Comment number 9.

    Northern Irish, Welsh, Uzbekistan, what does it matter. Can't believe that Rich you used Beckham terry and Rooney as examples for English sportsmen, they would actually have to win something first, and its different because at the end of the day, they go out and represent England at competitions as a team.

    For me, it does not matter where you are from, we are all from the same place, all made of the same stuff, being born in one place shouldn't make you winning more or less significant, It's an incredible achievement for anyone, and I am as happy for Mcilroy, as I was for Schwartzel back at Augusta.

  • Comment number 10.

    5.At 10:58 21st Jun 2011, waldovski wrote:
    I predict another media-triggered demise for a promising talent. I do not wish it, but I'm pretty sure it will happen.

    I dont think that will happen to McIlroy after all hes not english.................

  • Comment number 11.

    mcguirk12 :I was repling to swindonbluearmy who commented on his nationality when he lost at Augusta.Only used the analogy of Beckham Rooney Terry as these are known names,should have used those golfing Britain`s Faldo Lyle Woosnam really.

  • Comment number 12.

    Just heard that young Rory has pulled out of the French open. would probably take him two weeks to get over the party when he returns .He will only be drinking orange juice and lemonade mixed with something else in the jug from US open Just think with a better round at the masters he could being playing for the grand slam!

  • Comment number 13.

    Hi Matt - enjoyable article, but I wince when I read or hear this type of comment:

    "but what makes that more palatable is when genius is bestowed on a decent sort who respects the gift they have been given"

    Rory's got to where he is at the moment through hard work and application, I think lots of us like to believe talent is bestowed on people, as it gives us an excuse for not reaching their level!

  • Comment number 14.

    Rory being a HUGE sports fan said in an interview he is looking forward to the Rugby World Cup in September and hopes his National team Ireland do well and beat the Aussies.

    By September I believe Rory will be a double major winner.

  • Comment number 15.

    Can't believe that Rich you used Beckham terry and Rooney as examples for English sportsmen, they are no more role models then Tiger Woods is. They have all had several affairs on their loved ones and caused so much pain to their familys. All the while telling young kids its ok to be unfaithful and disrespect women the way they do.

    Please dont compare Rory to them. Infidility seems to be an english football thing...not an Irish golf thing.

  • Comment number 16.

    Mike D,

    Lets make on thing clear " people in the republic will claim him" I don`t need to remind anyone that we have our own 3 time major winner and don`t need to claim anybody!!!!!

  • Comment number 17.

    The Stockton effect is interesting. Many of the disciples of the Stocktons have enjoyed almost immediate success on the greens, Martin Laird one of the more recent before Rory.
    But Martin, like Phil, is now struggling again compared to their breakthrough post-Stockton successes. Hopefully Rory has someone in his camp who can reinforce on a weekly basis the Stockton message and the Congressional success on the greens.

  • Comment number 18.

    Why is everyone raving on about it. He had a very good win in the US Open. He has only won a few tournaments and everyone is raving on about him being the next "Tiger" and how he's going to be the richest British sportsmen ever. All the media are being sickofantic over this win with ridiculous comments during the final round and afterwards.

    Lets get it into perspective. He has a long way to go to even be classed at a great British golfer up there with a lot of other major winners. He is doing well at the moment but that's it.

    I'm sure that if he doesn't win The Open in a few weeks the British press will have headlines about what a disaster it was and is it all downhill from now just like they will do with Murray at Wimbledon if he doesn't win it this year.

  • Comment number 19.

    To jm and dg, get a grip boys. The guy is a great golfer. He could be purple for all most people care the fact is he is bringing joy to alot of people which seems to be the opposite of what you two are about.

  • Comment number 20.

    winning at sandwich will be dependant on how much petrol will be left in the tank. all the initial attention to adjust to the interviews and partying back home and the hype and expectation levels.
    give him a day pass for the open and let hm get back to Augusta and tear it up for a green jacket. that course is so made for RMAC to burn.

  • Comment number 21.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 22.

    What a delight this young man is. To come back from his Masters disappointment so quickly and so magnificently speaks volumes for him. I wish him the very best of luck with his future and believe he will remain well grounded and be a superb ambassador for his sport and his country - as well as Number 1 for some years to come. Hearty congratulations.

  • Comment number 23.

    The greatest thing about Rory is his ability to learn in such a short period of time. The chip out (on the 4th?) showed how much he'd learned post Augusta. My only fear is that in a few years time he goes down the same road as Tiger and believes all those around him who tell him he can do anything. Maybe the loss of Tiger's dad was a pivotal momenet and I'm hoping Rory's dad is around for a long time to come to keep Rory's feet grounded.

  • Comment number 24.

    Awesome job by Rory, I like many posters here can't understand why we are bashing Westwood though!
    Let us all rejoice in the fact that we have the best golfers in the world on the European tour. Its been a long time coming but it proves something that I have thought for a while now. The PGA tour is breeding golfers who only know how to play one way and very similar courses. The European tour players and European's who play on the PGA tour tend to have a broader outlook than those in the USA and more rounded games because the play in a variety of conditions.
    This is great news for the next Ryder cup think of the potential side we have

    Rory Mc

    To name but a few!
    The European team has strength in depth like never before!

    Congrats to Rory can't wait for the open! For the first time I could envisage all 4 majors being in European and European tour hands and I believe that’s not happened before! All Europeans should be celebrating this exceptional win lets hope this is the first of many.

  • Comment number 25.

    I would add to my comment that he is in no way the finished article. Augusta should have been a win but I think the lad got a bit carried away.
    I have played Augusta 3 times, granted from forward tee's and not the championship ones and as a 4 handicap golfer its not an easy course. However the mistake on 10 was rather poor. I said it at the time it was a serious error of judgment. From the forward tee you need to his a draw but its never a driver I I don't have the length of Rory. Its a 3 wood all the way with a slight draw onto the seriously steep slope. Then a 7 or 6 iron middle of green walk off with par and smile cause the next three holes are beasts. Fomr the back tee its never a driver in a million years its 3 wood for him. I can only think he was trying to get in PW-9 iron range. Anyway he did learn from that i.e. the chip out on the 4th but Sandwich is going to require similar restraint of the tee. Congresional played easy due to the rain. Thats not taking anything away from the performance which was awesome. I would still rate Woods demolition of Pebble a better performance bacause he was the only one underpar and the only one who looked like being under par.
    Rory is good having said all that, a bit more consitancy is going to be required for world no 1 status, but I think this lads got that ability, accuracy and length to do it.
    Can't wait to see him at Sandwich though I think I won't get as gooder view as I would have had two weeks ago.

  • Comment number 26.

    This last piece of the jigsaw confirms Rory has shown that he can beat the mental trap. He is now the 'complete ticket'. I can only anticipate the heights to which he will conquer, and wish him every success. Rory is the 'Boy's Own' hero which we could aspire our children to be. In a game so recently tarnished by slime, he is the promise of a shining light and I wish him every success.

  • Comment number 27.

    Evening all, thanks for reading and apologies for my late return to this blog, probably too late, to be honest. So I won't make any direct replies except to say yes, I agree with most of you, McIlroy is a hugely exciting talent and we COULD be looking at another Faldo in terms of major wins...and that is really saying something. To ask for/expect anything more is really just not fair/wise.

    I am also very upbeat about European golf in general, and think there are some "mainland" wins in the majors coming soon. But then I said that for the five years I was this website's golf editor.

    As for the stuff about McIlroy being British or Irish, please, can't we just leave a few small sections of the BBC website free from those debates? We all know the issues but this is a golf story on a sports page. There really is no need to say anything else.

    And as for my reference to McIlroy having a genius and it being bestowed upon (ikebuk, 13), I stand by that. There are millions of golfers all over the globe and a great many of them work hard, some of them much harder than McIlroy. But he's got something they haven't: a gift, a spark, a natural aptitude. Now that's not enough on its own, because truly elite sport is full of guys similarly blessed, but it is nonsense to say McIlroy beat a field of the best golfers in the world by eight shots because he worked hard. He did that too. But he's also a genius (and I'm not a sports journo who uses that word very often), in the same that a superstar mathematician, violinist, engineer etc would be. Seve had it too. And Arnie. And Tiger, Jack etc

  • Comment number 28.

    And as a bonus, I want to share a bit more Stockton with you as I only used a fraction of the interview. Basically, he watched McIlroy's final round at Augusta and thought he completely lost his routine/pace because of the moment but also because he was playing with Cabrera, one of the quickest players on the tour. And it became very stop-start because of the groups ahead. The two or three key putts he missed were all to the left. Stockton says this can usually be fixed in a session. If you're missing to the right you're talking weeks, months, a lifetime (same as if you were hooking it as opposed to slicing it).

    Anyway, Stockton met McIlroy and his caddie in Charlotte and watched him putt up close. Immediately he liked what he saw. No practice stroke! He liked the way McIlroy lined up looking at the hole, led the stroke with his left-hand, kept the back of that hand facing the hole and always gave the ball a chance to go in. Stockton said he made one small observation about keeping the left hand a little higher and some encouragement to keep believing every putt will go in and that was it. He saw him a few weeks later at Wentworth and McIlroy had it sorted.

    Stockton was very amusing on why you don't need to take practice putts and how hard it is to convince pros of that. He asked me to write my autograph slowly a few times to prove his point. Try it. So it was an interview that might actually improve my game. Cheers.

  • Comment number 29.

    Fantastic performance by RM and he deserves all our congratulations. However, I am looking forward to seeing how he will cope in future majors when he is put under pressure.

    He effectively won the US Open after 2 rounds having taken great advantage of the tee time combination of late Thursday/early Friday.

    If he only had a 1 shot advantage going into the back 9 on Sunday, would he have coped so easily?

    Time will tell............

  • Comment number 30.

    Beating his demons & getting over Augusta was a massive hurdle cleared for Rory, but getting over being a Major winner & the wall of expectation coming into the Open might be an even higher one.
    I believe he can do it though. I think we have seen the birth of a once-in-a-generation phenomenon.
    Proud of him.

  • Comment number 31.

    Can we just bring forward the next BBC Sports Personality of the Year & award it now as we all know who it'll be anyway?

  • Comment number 32.

    Great story Matt, esp the insight from Dave Stockton on Augusta pace of play and his putting observations, .......hopefully the 'no practice stroke' putting will catch on and we'll all benefit from quicker rounds of golf!

  • Comment number 33.

    I think Rory has the Irish Sports Star of the Year award wrapped up already.
    Although I think he will add one more major before the year is out making that 6 majors going to Irish men in the last 5 years...pretty amazing stuff for such a small country.

  • Comment number 34.

    Well I never, a BBC journo that responds to questions asked of him, how unique. Some interesting insight on the putting, nice one.

    Pity Mr McMulty and Mr Carter don't follow your example, Matt. I wouldn't be surprised if they probably don't even read them.

  • Comment number 35.

    Just seen Englands 45 man squad for the World Cup...looks more like a club team then an international team. A lot of imports. Wow.

  • Comment number 36.

    Good stuff about Stockton Matt; Johnny Miller (I know, has to have an opinion on everything) felt his hands were perfectly positioned on the putter. But still, can he repeat it? Again and again and again?? Only time will tell, but not many have been able to repeat the Stocktons' trick.

    (Similarly think Stockton's Cabrera excuse is just a crutch; certainly a player who gets a move on but there are plenty quicker and am sure the pace of play from Dustin and Phil suited Rory. Then he did well to have two days of the very steady personality of Yang at Congressional, perhaps fortunate he avoided Jason Day.)

  • Comment number 37.

    RE PAULS COMMENT 21ST JUNE. The PGA tour is breeding golfers who only know how to play one way and very similar courses. PAUL IF YOU REALLY THINK THAT I SUGGEST YOU GOOGLE BRITISH OPEN GOLF RESULTS FROM DAY ONE

  • Comment number 38.

    when can we see the one BBC NI special on Rory here in the mainland BBC, it would be of interest to everyone in the UK not just NI so come BEEB get your at together and show the programme on the big island!!

  • Comment number 39.

    Great article Matt -
    I'm just starting to read stuff on the old nature vs nurture argument, i.e. are people just born good at something or is it practise, practise and then more practise, so was interested in your 'genius' comment that was then immediately followed by an explanation how Rory was already practising heavily by the time he was two. Do kids like Rory love something so much that they practise at it (or play at it) every second they can and then become great.. it's an old but interesting debate I reckon.

    Was fortunate enough to spend some time with a pro-golfer recently and his toddler son can whack the ball with a beuatiful swing, but would argue that this is not some innate talent - rather he's seen his old man do it, he wants to be like Daddy, he loves doing it and so he does it over and over again, with the odd tip from Daddy, and hey presto...


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