Rory McIlroy: Five Steps to Become a Golf Legend

Mike LynchContributor IIIOctober 15, 2011

Rory McIlroy: Five Steps to Become a Golf Legend

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    In the future, we may mention Rory McIlroy right alongside Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Ben Hogan.  

    His win at the 2011 US Open broke the tournament scoring record. At age 22, he was the youngest winner since Bobby Jones almost 100 years prior.  McIlroy hit a record 62 greens in regulation in an amazing ball striking display.

    He had had shown glimpses of this ability before.  His scorching final round 62 to win at Quail Hollow in 2010 forced Phil Mickelson to shake his head.  He fired a record 63 at the British Open.  He had three rounds in the 60s but lost any chance of winning due to horrific second round conditions.  McIlroy was in contention at the 2010 PGA Championship, but couldn't sink big putts in the final round.

    The 2011 Masters looked like the culmination, but it turned into a disaster on Sunday.  McIlroy shot an 80 after entering with a four-stroke lead.  It was the kind of loss that could derail a career, but McIlroy insisted it was a learning experience.  Clearly he was correct, as he burned the competition by 8 strokes in the very next major.

    It is clear that McIlroy has the potential to be a golf legend.  However, Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson also had this talent.  Hall of Famers they are, but they are not on the highest pedestal of golfers.  They both worked hard but neglected critical aspects that could have put them over the top.

    Norman admitted this when he appeared as a guest on David Feherty's program.  He wished that he had used a sports psychologist.  Mickelson needed to develop a go-to tee shot and he never fixed his forward press in the putting stroke until switching to the belly putter this year.

    Here are five things Rory McIlroy must do to become a legend of golf.

Keep Personal Distractions off the Course

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    McIlroy had an eventful year in regards to his personal life.  

    One of the reasons he decided to decline PGA Tour membership was to be closer to then-girlfriend Holly Sweeney.  However, they supposedly broke up in January of this year and then got back together.  They broke up again before the British Open and McIlroy was immediately seen with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.  The two have been high profile and a very public couple since.  

    Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan were married during their careers.  Tiger Woods has not been the same since his double life was exposed.  Dustin Johnson was clearly distracted when rumors of a relationship with Natalie Gulbis emerged in January.  

    Golfers seem to enjoy having their private lives remain private.

    This isn't to say McIlroy needs to end his relationship with Wozniacki or that he needs to have no concerns outside of golf.  He wouldn't be human if golf was his only focus in life.  

    However, he needs to have 100 percent focus on golf when he is on the course.  He has not been able to do so over the last two years.

Improve Play in Windy Conditions

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    Rory McIlroy was not pleased about the wet and windy conditions at the 2011 British Open.  He stated, "Yeah, I'm not a fan of golf tournaments that the outcome is predicted so much by the weather. It's not my sort of golf."  

    He is correct that his game is not suited to tournaments with windy conditions.  His high ball flight allows him to attack pins that very few golfers can.  However, in windy conditions the trajectory is affected more than a low shot.

    McIlroy needs to further develop skills for playing in windy conditions.  They are a major liability to his game at the present time.  The 2011 Dubai Desert Classic and the last two British Opens are a testament to that.

    He does not need to become the next Tom Watson.  He just needs to do enough that wind does not automatically mean a derailment for his round.  

    McIlroy will cost himself many tournaments if he does not improve in the wind.

Improve the Short Game

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    Rory McIlroy's scrambling needs to get better.  On his PGA Tour page he has a scrambling percentage of 53.61, a terrible conversion rate. He also has a sand save percentage of 43.55, well below average.  

    He can make some terrific pitch shots when the play is to fly the ball close to the hole.   McIlroy struggles when the better option is a running shot. He will avoid playing the shot, and when he does attempt it the result is often poor.  He is essentially playing with a limited arsenal around the green.  In a sport where every stroke is crucial, that cannot be the case.

    Tiger Woods in 2009—his last good season—led the PGA Tour in scrambling.  If you check his statistics page, the drop-off in scrambling percentage in the last two years is enormous.  It shows the importance of the short game towards scoring.

    McIlroy's ability to hit greens means that he will never have to be Seve Ballesteros or Phil Mickelson. He can be a golf legend without having a wizard-like short game.  His current status will not be acceptable if he is to reach that level.

Find a Pressure-Proof Tee Shot

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    McIlroy needs to develop a tee shot built for high pressure situations.  He has a tendency to play the draw, working the ball right to left.  

    At The Masters, the draw turned into a horrible hook that put him in the left side trees.  While that was the most notable occurrence, the occasional hook has been a problem for McIlroy.

    Generally speaking, McIlroy will hit a hook when he swings too quickly.  Under pressure with the adrenaline flowing, it is quite easy for that to happen.  McIlroy has a great swing, but it does not take much to turn his high draw into a large hook.

    Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus primarily played a fade ball flight, from left to right.  It takes a much bigger error for a professional golfer to slice a shot well to the right of the target. At his peak, Tiger Woods often hit a low-flying shot dubbed the "stinger."  The low spin and ball flight of the stinger make it a shot that is not likely to be hit severely off line.

Switch to the Belly Putter

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    Rory McIlroy's putting statistics on the PGA Tour are atrocious.  He ranks 130th in strokes gained-per-round from putting.  On putts from five to 10 feet in length, his accuracy is 50 percent, ranking 173rd on tour.  His accuracy from inside five feet is good for 96th best.  His numbers from 2010 tell a similarly woeful story.

    The belly putter seems to have the greatest benefit on shorter putts.  This is precisely where McIlroy needs help.  It is impossible to know for sure if he would improve, but he can't get much worse then what we've seen.  He squanders so many birdie chances because of his putting.  

    He easily could have won the 2010 PGA Championship, but didn't make any putts.

    Considering his abysmal putting numbers, it would be crazy for McIlroy not to try the belly putter.  It is not a panic move for him to ditch the standard blade at a young age.  He has consistently performed poorly with it in his pro career.

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