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How one of golf’s greatest putters helped Rory McIlroy find his feel

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“He just streamlined everything and gave it a lot more feel, the way I play the rest of the game.”

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BROOKLINE, Mass. — It was his first putt of the tournament and his ball had no chance of getting into the hole.

Rory McIlroy’s first two shots on the 500-yard 10th hole had left the 2011 US Open champion safe in the middle of the green, but a bad putt was now putting him in danger. Rolling down the hill, Rory’s ball took longer than he thought. Now he was rolling too low and too slow. But while he did, Rory kept track of him. Calm and focused, his eyes locked on the ball as he slid farther.

rory mcilroy hits the sand at the us open on thursday.

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Josh Berhow



“That’s something we’ve talked about a lot,” says Brad Faxon, who over his career has won eight PGA Tour events and competed in 18 US Opens. “On long putts, watch the ball roll very closely until it comes to a complete stop. You’ll notice how much it breaks at the end.”

A few moments later, Rory had something more enjoyable to watch: his ball rolling into the center of the cup from just over a meter.

Rory McIlroy picks up the conversation every time he plays well. He lifted the trophy in Canada last week, and he’s the heavy favorite to do it again in Boston this week. If he does, there will be a lot of talk about his booming shots, his striated iron shots and his swashbuckling golf swing. But maybe we should pay more attention to his putt.

For a player who spent the three years between 2015 and 2018 ranking between 159th and 97th in SG: Putting, he arrives at Brookline this week ranked 31st in the category. In many ways, he has been the engine of his recent ambitions. During his first-round 3-under 67 at this week’s US Open, his flat stick helped him win 4.25 shots on the rest of the course, making it the statistically strongest part of his game during his first round.

Return to basic

It all started with a phone call to Faxon, one of the best putters of his generation or any generation, in 2018. Struggling on the greens, he spent a full Monday afternoon at the Bears Club in Jupiter with Faxon, and had his best putting week. of the season from him later that week. Since then, Faxon has been Rory’s kicker.

“When I met him I thought, ‘Let’s get him back to basics,’” says Faxon. “My goal was for him to break free and have confidence in his punch. He doesn’t have to be perfect.”

That’s a common theme whenever the pair talk about how Rory’s performances on the green have changed. They do not completely give up technical work; Rory says that he will use a mirror about once a week to make sure his eyes are level and not straying to the right, as they often do, and that he works hard to keep his right elbow tucked in at his side during preparation (when he doesn’t, he tends to cut his putts). It’s all a very light touch, by design.

“I think there is an overabundance of training aids, in the sense that players will tend to rely on them too much,” says Faxon. “When in reality, 90 percent of what you’re doing with the putt happens before you putt it.”

making practice fun

Green reading, visualization, speed control, pre-shot routines; those took priority. Improving them does not mean exercises, but something more like games. One of his go-tos is to practice hitting the same putt at different speeds: soft and hard, so that it enters the hole in different areas.

“It opens up a person’s creativity,” says Faxon of the exercise. “It helps your visualization and makes putting more artful.”

Whatever he does, Rory enjoys it.

“It’s become almost less of a practice,” adds McIlroy. “He just streamlined everything and gave it a lot more feel, the way I play the rest of the game.”

Rory and Faxon also talk a lot. About the process. About keeping things great. About accepting that not every putt is going to go in, and how that’s okay. Rory didn’t have to worry too much about it on Thursday. After that short par-saver on the first, the World No. 3 spent the rest of his first round holing a series of impressive putts: Long birdie looks on the 7th and 8th holes, along with a 12-foot par-save. after problems with the bunker. day 5

“Putts like that are huge for momentum,” Rory said after his round. “As I approached those greens, I was accepting that I was just trying to hit a 10- or 15-foot putt, knowing I had a chance to make them.”

It’s the kind of artistic and conceptual stuff that Rory uses to paint a picture off the tee. That helped him find his rhythm on the greens.

Faxon, for his part, loves to watch it. Not as his coach, but as his partner. There is perhaps no better golfer than Faxon at handling his putter like a paintbrush. And he appreciates good art when he sees it.

“It was nice to see him. He seemed so comfortable on the ball, so instinctive and reactive,” he says of Rory. “People see that confidence in Rory on his completions. I want them to feel the same about Rory’s putting as they do about his driving.” .

Time will tell, but if Thursday at Brookline was any indication, it could be his work with Rory that proves Faxon’s masterpiece.

Luke Kerr-Dineen

Golf.com Contributor

Luke Kerr-Dineen is Game Improvement Editor at GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. In his role, he oversees the brand’s game improvement content spanning instruction, equipment, health and fitness, across all of GOLF’s media platforms.

An alumnus of the International Junior Golf Academy and the University of South Carolina–Beaufort golf team, where he helped them reach No. 1 in the NAIA national rankings, Luke moved to New York in 2012 to earn his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. . His work has also appeared in USA Today, Golf Digest, Newsweek, and The Daily Beast.

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