Rory McIlroy admits he thought about going to short game guru Dave Stockton in the middle last year having seen “a couple of magazine articles” he really liked.
Why he waited until after his Masters disappointment is anyone’s guess but that’s history now and it will be interesting to see how the youngster’s putting progresses as he heads into the meat of the season.
The BMW PGA Championship is now being hailed as the “Augusta of Europe” and the “Fifth Major”, mainly because of Europe’s current dominance at the top of the world rankings and the beauty of a golf course that has been completely revamped by Ernie Els.
The greens were torn up a couple of years ago and Irish eyes will be scrutinising McIlroy’s performance on them over the next few days as he puts Stockton’s methods into action.
McIlroy admits that he was stung by feelings of pure envy as he watched Charl Schwartzel, resplendent in the Masters champion’s green jacket, stand on stage alongside the other European Tour based major winners at the annual tour dinner at Wentworth on Tuesday night.
Asked if he had a “that could have been me moment”, he confessed: “Yeah, of course. It’s tough but, you know, I’m a big boy. I could go to the US Open in a few weeks’ time and it could all be forgotten.”
Stockton began working with McIlroy at Quail Hollow two weeks ago and he’s pleasantly surprised how quickly the 22-year old Ulsterman has learnt in that space of time
“I’m amazed how much he’s picked up in two weeks,” the 69-year old told the Irish Independent. “Rory says he doesn’t practice much, but he obviously worked on it.”
While McIlroy shot a final round 80 to lose the Masters, Stockton shot a 73 to lose the 1974 green jacket to Gary Player having led by two shots with a round to go. It’s not quite the same, but he understands how McIlroy feels.
“I’ve been there, I know what it’s like,” he said.
He also believes that McIlroy’s putting is eminently fixable, especially inside 12 feet.
“I like the idea that Rory missed all his putts to the left, which is much easier to fix than somebody who misses them right,” Stockton said. “I think he’s got to learn patience. On longer putts, 12 feet and out, Rory’s relaxed and rolls it.
“I see a different kind of approach, almost an attack mode, on a five, six or seven-foot putt … he’s just trying too hard to make it instead of simply letting the natural flow go as he would on a 15-footer.”
On Stockton’s advice, McIlroy has changed his routine so that he can have a more free-flowing move on the putts he feels he should be holing inside 10 feet.
“I feel I was taking a little too long over them,” McIlroy explained, “having three looks at the hole while taking my practice strokes. I used to take three practice strokes but don’t take any now. It’s more instinctive, just one look at the hole and go.”
How McIlroy would love to be able to putt like his friend Graeme McDowell, who gave him a lesson on the grens in last Saturday’s 3 and 2 Volvo World Match Play defeat.
McIlroy dismissed his defeat at nothing to worry about as GMac was “eight under par for the 16 holes, he had to play his best stuff to beat me.”
Few words were exchanged between the Ulstermen in what McDowell described as a “pretty frosty 16 holes.”
McDowell’s game was also frozen for several weeks but he’s dismissed all talk of a mini slump following his Sunday 79 in the Players Championship, where he had a three stroke lead with 19 holes to play but never got going again following a double bogey finish to his third round.
Predicting another big summer ahead, he said: “The Wales Open last June probably was a 10 out of 10 for ball-striking, as good as I’ve ever played. Pebble Beach was a 9.5, yet New Orleans was 0.5.
“I’m back to seven or eight out of 10 now. I’d three and a half rounds of great golf at The Players.”
With Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer battle for the honorary prize of world No 1, McDowell and McIlroy will be hoping that they have a problem on Saturday evening as the bid to get to Wembley to watch their beloved Manchester United take on Barcelona in the Champions League final from 7.45.
“I’m hoping to make it, though if I’m last off it will be a nice problem to have,” said McDowell. “I’m very excited about the game. There’s a bit of a buzz among the lads about who has got tickets and who hasn’t. It has proven difficult but I’m taking my dad and brother.”
McIlroy said: “It’s going to be tough because Barcelona can turn it on at any stage they want. They’re so good on the ball. But if United keep it close for the first hour hopefully we can catch them on the break.”