World No 1 Jordan Spieth reckons Rory McIlroy's decision to switch to a left-below right putting grip may prove to be a masterstroke in terms of his confidence.
The Masters and US Open champion is one of the great putters in the game and after holing more than 130 successive seven footers in a late evening practice session ahead of his Thursday morning tee time with McIlroy and Jason Day, the Texan said he was not unduly surprised by McIlroy's decision to go cack-handed.
"I don't think there was anything wrong with his stroke before but it may be something different for confidence," the American said after his 45-minute putting session.
"He may be very easily just go back to it. Anything new when it is not going well especially putting, it's huge. So I think it is a smart move if you can grow some confidence."
McIlroy spent a good deal of time working on his own stroke in the late afternoon, holing dozens of three footers around the cup with the cack-handed grip before moving on to the seven footers.
Ranked 189th for strokes gained on the greens this year when Spieth is second, the 26-year old has decided to bite the bullet and adopt the same left below right putting grip used by the American as well as Pádraig Harrington and Shane Lowry.
“I'm going to give it a try this week and see where we go with it,” McIlroy said. “But it felt really, really good. Roll of the ball is really good. The contact is much better, and it really just takes my right hand out of it.
“Everything that I have done in my putting the last few years is all to try and lead with the left hand and really just have the right on there as more of a guide than anything else.
“But I felt like my right hand was becoming a little bit too active in the stroke. So this is a perfect way to sort of deactivate that, and I really just feel like I'm controlling the putting stroke with my left hand only.”
McIlroy said he experimented with the left below right style briefly in early 2008, just a few months after he turned professional.
But while he has since won 19 professional tournaments, including four majors, with his right hand below his left, he insists he’s going to stick with the new method for a few events, even if he struggles at first.
“I feel like it’s something I'm going to stick with regardless of what the outcome is tomorrow or this week or next week,” he said.
“I really do feel like it helps me put a stroke on it that I want to. It's a great feeling. I feel like it gives my putting stroke a bit more of a better rhythm, as well, a better flow.
“Look, if it doesn't work right from the get-go tomorrow, you're not going to see me on Friday morning putting conventional again. It's something I'm going to stick with for a while.”
McIlroy insisted that the change was triggered by some pulled putts at the Honda Classic last Friday and not suggested by his entourage.
“I missed a couple of putts on Friday at Honda that I felt, even before I made contact with the ball, that my right hand had [come across] and I missed it left.
“So I said, I need to do something here. I was playing around with a few different grips on the putting green over the weekend. This one felt more natural to me because I've done it before and I do it quite a lot when I'm just practicing in drills, as well. So I thought, why not give it a go.
“I sent [caddie] JP (Fitzgerald) and [personal assistant] Sean (O’Flaherty) a couple of videos yesterday and said I'm going with it. I'm going to stick with it and go with it. It's felt good, so we'll see how it holds up tomorrow.”
As for the frustration of last week’s missed cut last week, he was philosophical.
“I’ve missed enough cuts in my career to know that it isn’t the end of the world,” said McIlroy, who has now missed 32 cuts in 211 starts since he turned professional — some 15%
“And it's great, in golf, you have the next week, you have an opportunity to go back out there and rectify it and play well.
“It's definitely not the last cut I'm going to miss, but I've accepted that and that's golf. You're not going to play great all the time, and as long as they can be few and far between, I think I'll be okay.”
Spieth's left below right putting style has worked beautifully for him, though he started out with a conventional grip. He explained:
I didn't learn to putt that way, no. I putted conventional, even when I first started going to my coach, I was putting conventional. I want to say, though, it was within the first year. He didn't tell me to switch at all, my instructor. I had gone a little back and forth when I was maybe 11 to 13 or 14 years old.
I've kind of messed around with both, and I felt left-hand-low was very solid for me on shorter length putts, but my speed control was off, which is normally what people have a tough time getting adjusted to with it, just because it's unnatural.
But for me, I do so many things with my left hand; I throw, shoot. I have a lot of feel with my left hand. I was a quick learner with judging speed, and I think it's advantageous for me to putt left-hand-low, given the kind of control I have with my left hand and holding that left wrist kind of more square and just putting a good stroke on it.
The reason, yeah, that would be the reason I switched. I just started having better control with my speed. And then I started to trust it more when the pressure was on. Main reason I switched, when I did conventional, it was very unnatural for me to square my shoulders. I just kind of kept it to where it would be open so I would have a tendency to kind of come over the top of the putt and hit it over my arm line, and putting left-hand-low squared everything up.
As for his practice putting routine, Spieth revealed that he can "only" hit around 500 practice putts in a session before his back starts to hurt.