“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t anything to do with what Bryson did at the US Open,” says Rory McIlroy after missing the cut at Sawgrass and revealing his quest for extra speed and distance has led to issues with his swing.
By Keith Jackson
Rory McIlroy revealed that his bid to add extra speed and distance to his long game, prompted by Bryson DeChambeau’s US Open win, has caused the swing flaws that contributed to his poor performance at The Players Championship.
Despite admitting he felt fatigued and “achy” during his seventh tournament in eight weeks, the defending champion insisted his punishing schedule was not to blame for his early exit at TPC Sawgrass, where rounds of 79 and 75 – 10 over par – left him 10 shots shy of making the cut.
McIlroy, who was seen on the range under the watchful eye of coach Pete Cowen after his error-strewn opening round, feels his swing began to falter during speed training sessions last autumn, a course of action he decided to take after watching the manner in which DeChambeau powered his way to a six-shot victory at the US Open.
The former world No 1 is now focused on fixing the problem in time for the Masters next month, hinting that he may miss the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at the end of March, although he warned that it could take time to regain his consistency.
Asked what was the most frustrating aspect of his erratic game at Sawgrass, he said: “Probably the swing issues and where it all stems from, probably October last year. I was doing a little bit of speed training, started getting sucked into that stuff, and my swing got flat, long, and too rotational.
“Obviously I added some speed and I am hitting the ball longer, but what that did to my swing as a whole probably wasn’t a good thing, so I’m sort of fighting to get back out of that. That’s what I’m frustrated with.
“I felt like I made some good strides. I played well at the Tour Championship, played well at the US Open. I sort of look back at Winged Foot and I look at my swing there, and I would be pretty happy with that again.
“And then after Winged Foot I had a few weeks before we went to the West Coast and I started to try to hit the ball a bit harder, hit a lot of drivers, get a bit more speed, and I felt like that was sort of the infancy of where these swing problems have come from. So it’s just a matter of trying to get back out of it.”
While DeChambeau was transforming himself into the longest hitter on the PGA Tour, McIlroy initially said he was unwilling to follow the same path and felt he played at his best when he was fit and light.
But when asked why he was chasing added distance, he said: “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t anything to do with what Bryson did at the US Open. I think a lot of people saw that and were like, if this is the way they’re going to set golf courses up in the future, it helps. It really helps.
“The one thing that people don’t appreciate is how good Bryson is out of the rough. Not only because of how upright he is but because his short irons are longer than standard, so he can get a little more speed through the rough than us, than other guys.
“And I thought being able to get some more speed is a good thing, and maybe to the detriment of my swing, I got there, but I just need to maybe rein it back in a little bit.”
McIlroy fears that it will not be a quick fix, although he insisted he wanted to maintain the extra speed he has developed despite the damage it has had on his swing.
“It’ll take a bit of time, the slightest change in your swing is going to feel uncomfortable for a while,” he said. “It’s not like it’s that far away. I go back to last September, October is where it looked and felt pretty good.
“So it’s just a matter of maybe not erasing the stuff, I’d still like to keep the speed, but just not make the swings that are sort of producing that speed.”
In the meantime, McIlroy is looking forward to getting home after feeling the effects of his punishing schedule, having had only one week away from competitive golf since starting the year in encouraging fashion with a third-place finish at the Abu Dhabi Championship in mid-January.
“It’s funny, I used to think four weeks in a row was nothing, and then I feel like I’m getting old because by the fourth week I’m like, a little achy, a couple of things are hurting, so I’m looking forward to getting home,” he said. “That’s not the reason I didn’t play very well this week, but it’s felt like a long four weeks.
“It was certainly ambitious, especially going from Abu Dhabi to the West Coast. But I wanted to play. I felt like I played sparingly from September onwards last year, so I wanted to play quite a bit. I think these next three weeks coming up will give me some time to work on some stuff and I can get ready for Augusta.”