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Throwback Thursday: Rory McIlroy's golf swing, then and now

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

Like Tiger Woods before him, it was apparent from a young age that Rory McIlroy was going to be very good at golf one day.

That notion has been backed-up repeatedly in the media's coverage of McIlroy, and YouTube is littered with old footage of Rory that seems to reinforce the point. So, in honor of this year's British Open champion, we thought it'd be fun to use some of that footage and compare Rory's swing from when he was nine to one taken earlier this year by the British magazine Golf Monthly.

rory-swings-2-518.gifRory is obviously a lot bigger now, which is why he's much more in control of the club than when he was young -- look at how stable his head stays, for example.

One thing that's especially interesting to see is how hard the 9-year-old Rory swings at the ball -- something that has obviously continued into his adulthood. And that process is driven by the way Rory's lower body works through the ball. Rory says the "rotational speed" in his hips is key reason he hits it so far, and is something that is present in his 9-year-old swing, too.

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Instruction

How He Hit That: Rory McIlroy's British Open putting spot

By Matthew Rudy

Rory McIlroy relied on two code words as triggers during his wire-to-wire win at Hoylake, "process" for full shots and "spot" for putts. Both keys obviously did what they were supposed to do, but McIlroy's putting was particularly stellar. He made 20 birdies and two eagles, and one-putted 34 out of 72 greens on his way to the third leg of the career grand slam. 

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The "spot" idea comes from his work with putting guru Dave Stockton, and it's an easy technique for any player to copy. "Rory -- and anybody else -- putts the best when he's seeing and feeling his line, getting up there and rolling the ball on that line in a nice rhythm," says Stockton, who has worked with McIlroy since the lead-up to his record-setting 2011 U.S. Open win. 

Stockton teaches players to begin to set their stance while looking out at the line -- not at the ball. "I get my eyes set on my line, and then only look down a split second before I start my stroke, but I'm not looking at the ball. I pick a spot an inch or two in front of the ball," says Stockton. "The stroke isn't a conscious thing. I'm just watching for the ball to roll over that spot."

McIlroy's best golf comes when he's crisp and decisive, but doesn't rush through his routine. "Most players take too long and get locked up in mechanics, but Rory's tendency was to get too rushed and step in before he saw really clearly in his mind what he wanted to do," says Stockton. "When he stays on rhythm, he sees his shot, walks in, sets his eyes and lets it go. It's fun to watch. He has all the talent in the world." 

 


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Instruction

Tiger's new enemy in the quest for 19 majors? His mind

By Matthew Rudy

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Tiger Woods' various body parts have always been under intense scrutiny, from pumped biceps to ruptured ACLs and impinged discs. 

One part that hasn't often been called into question is his mind, but that's changing. He's about to finish his 25th major without a win -- and will fall behind Jack Nicklaus' 18-major pace. 

Woods is now walking onto the first tee at every major with something he probably hasn't felt since he was a Stanford undergrad.

Pressure.

"Obviously he has a desperate need to win a major, and he's anxious to get into position right away to make that happen," says Dr. Mike Lardon, a San Diego psychiatrist and mental performance coach who has worked with dozens of Olympic medalists, NFL players and professional golfers. "He gets amped up, and coupled with his big weakness -- driving the ball straight -- he can run into trouble on holes that demand precision."

In his first two rounds, Woods played the narrow first and second holes in five over. On Saturday, when he was 14 shots behind leader Rory McIlroy, Woods started on the par-5 10th and birdied that and the short 11th. He ended up shooting 73. 

"This anxiety and pressure can be both real and self-imposed, and it can change your rhythm," says Lardon, who writes about his work with Phil Mickelson before last year's British Open victory in an excerpt of his new book, Mastering Golf's Mental Game, in the latest issue of Golf Digest. "The cycle of negative thoughts and emotions is self-perpetuating, and it becomes very hard to be confident when it happens to you again and again. It's really hard to break, especially at a major championship. And majors are not usually places that reward you when you get behind and start to press."

Mickelson went through a similar, smaller-scale crisis last year after his crushing U.S. Open loss at Merion. He wondered if, at age 43, he had missed his last, best chance. "Phil had to learn how to cleanse his mind and to avoid making any one shot more important than the next," Lardon says. "That's hard to do, especially at a major." 

Six years ago, 32-year-old Tiger likely felt like he had all the time in the world to win five more majors. Almost-40 Tiger probably feels differently. Lardon believes the mental piece will play a bigger part in whether or not Woods challenges Nicklaus' record than physical problems. "Human nature makes you get ahead of yourself and think about what's coming next. That adds pressure at the exact time when extra pressure is the last thing you need. He's going to have to slow down and fight through it, just like everybody else."       

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Instruction

This is how you cheat the wind

By Matthew Rudy

Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson put up the gaudiest scores, but Sergio Garcia's round had more flash. He holed his approach shot on No. 2 for eagle and hit this head-high stinger off the tee on No. 3, complete with vapor trail:


The trick? A downward blow from an adjusted ball position. "On TrackMan, the average tour player hits down on the ball three degrees with a 3-iron," says Lukas McNair, a senior instructor at the Hank Haney Golf Ranch outside Dallas. "Here, he's bringing the angle of attack to five degrees. He moves the ball back in his stance so his head is in front of the ball at address, hits down and makes an abbreviated followthrough with a low arm swing."

Garcia makes the shot look routine with a long iron, but it takes big-time clubhead speed to do it with those clubs. "You can go out and hit that shot yourself by making those adjustments, but you might want to try it with a shorter iron," McNair says. "Sergio's speed and control of the club with his irons is unbelievable."

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Instruction

Is Tiger Woods' swing coming together for Hoylake? Yes and no.

By Matthew Rudy

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When Tiger Woods came back to play his Quicken Loans event at Congressional two weeks ago, it was obvious he wasn't quite ready for primetime. 

Golf Digest Best Young Teacher Jason Birnbaum weighed in then on what he called Tiger's "short and wide" post-surgery swing, and said it was clearly a work in progress. 

Related: Dissecting Tiger Woods' Post-surgery Swing 

We asked Birnbaum to check out some of Tiger's swings this week at Hoylake to see what -- if anything -- has changed after two weeks of practice.  

 

"Mechanically, his technique still looks the same to me," says Birnbaum, who is based at Alpine Country Club in Demarest, NJ. "He seems to hit it off the heel a lot more than he used to. You could see it clearly in the slow-motion analysis Peter Kostis did during the telecast at Congressional, and it looks the same this week. It's hard to speculate because of the differences the camera angle can make, but his swing looks like it's flatter, and his hands are lower through the ball."

But even with the mechanical bits not meshing perfectly, Birnbaum does see reason for optimism this week. "What's different is that he seems to be going after the ball more," he says. "He's definitely taking a rip at it. He seems to feel pretty good about the condition of his back. Unless he's really hitting it poorly, I don't think he's going to be making any big changes this week."

Hoylake's strategic requirements -- and Woods' fond memories of his dominant performance there in 2006 -- should also act as powerful swing tonic. "He's playing a course where his biggest weakness, the driver, doesn't come into play as much," says Birnbaum. "It's a tricky place that requires a lot of different shot shapes, and that works in his favor. If there was ever a week he could just play golf and not think 'golf swing,' this would be it."

That just leaves Woods' putter, which hasn't been the same reliable weapon it was at his peak. "He won't be out of play, and the greens are huge," says Birnbaum. "He used to be a two-putt machine from any distance. That has to be there for him this week."   

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How He Hit That

How She Hit That: Mo Martin's winning 3-wood at Birkdale

By Matthew Rudy

Eagles to win major championships are unlikely by themselves. Mo Martin's was even more unlikely than that. 

The diminutive Californian hit her 3-wood approach on the 18th at Birkdale from 240 yards in swirling winds and watched as it rolled toward the hole like a putt. It bounced off the pin and ended up six feet away. She sank the next for her first eagle of the 2014 season, and a one-shot victory at the Women's British Open.   




Wielding a wood for an approach is nothing new for Martin, who is one of the LPGA's shortest hitters at 233 yards per drive. She's also first in driving accuracy at more than 85 percent fairways hit, and comfortable hitting woods from tight fairway lies. Birkdale set up perfectly for her, with firm, fast fairways and room to roll shots onto greens.

Martin said the wind was full into her face and she had a left-to-right lie. She aimed left and let it fly. "When it was rolling on the ground I said 'Sit," and then I said "Go," and it looked perfect, so I didn't have anything more to say. It hit the pin and I could hear it from the fairway." Her eagle putt went right in the center, and she waited an hour as Shanshan Feng, Suzann Pettersen and Inbee Park tried unsuccessfully to catch her at one under. It was Martin's first victory of any kind since the 2011 Eagle Classic on the Symetra Tour.  

"She's so great at these shots because she treats them just like she's hitting a wedge," says ESPN swing coach Jerome Andrews. "Her neck, arms and shoulders are relaxed. It's not like she's trying to gear up and produce more speed or trying to lift the ball into the air." 

Amateurs often struggle with fairway woods -- especially from tight lies -- because they try to add speed and loft. "You're going for your regular rhythm and pace, which is going to promote solid contact," says Andrews, who teaches at Spring Creek Golf Club in Charlottesville, VA., and Altadena Golf Course in Altadena, CA -- Martin's hometown. "Keep your lower body quiet at the start and start the swing with the club head, hands and arms. This sequence will let the club and arms swing together with the shoulders and hips. Hit it solid and let the club do the work." 

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Instruction

#HelpMeGolfDigest: Trillium Sellers fixes your transition and solves your posture problems

By Matthew Rudy

When Golf Digest Best Young Teacher Trillium Sellers gives a piece of swing advice, there are extra reasons to pay attention. The Maryland instructor earned her master's degree in motor learning and control from Columbia in February, and she put that rare (in the golf business) credential to use this week selecting a few swings to analyze for our regular #HelpMeGolfDigest series. 

Reader Tim Egan (@thetimmer_ on Instagram) submitted his video shot from an unconventional quartering angle. It made judging his setup position harder but revealed some room for improvement in his backswing-to-downswing transition.     


"Tim doesn't have a bad swing, but he's putting too much weight into his back foot on the backswing," says Sellers, who is based at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md. "He needs to keep that weight on the inside part of his back foot and not let it flow over to the outside edge. An easy way to think about it is to imagine a golf tee sticking straight out of your right kneecap. During the backswing, you always want that tee pointing straight out in front of you, not back away from the target."


The second swing belongs to @emma2908, who submitted a dark, moody driver swing with some transition problems of its own. 

"Emma definitely has something to work with, but at the top of the backswing her lead arm just collapses," Sellers says. "The club goes way past parallel, and makes John Daly's backswing look short. She needs to feel that lead arm extend so that her hands are away from her neck, which will also straighten out her downswing." 


The last swing comes from @Garrett_njd30, whose posture looks a lot like Paula Creamer's. Sellers is worried he's headed for back pain.  

"Garrett makes a strong move at it, but he drops his head so much that his shoulders are almost vertical at impact," Sellers says. "He has to set up with the ball off the toe because that head move will make the club go out much more than it was at address. To get that spine more vertical, hold a club against your chest and make some swings keeping it -- and the shoulders -- as horizontal as possible. That's also going to change the setup position a lot, with the ball farther away and the arms extended more."

Submit your swings via Instagram or Twitter with the #HelpMeGolfDigest hashtag and you could see yourself analyzed in this space this summer.

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Instruction

Butch Harmon moves one step closer to world domination, adds Brandt Snedeker as his student

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

The Butch Harmon empire just keeps growing.

Golf Channel reported Wednesday that Tiger Woods' former swing instructor has added Brandt Snedeker to his star-studded stable, which already includes Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker. Snedeker previously worked with Sea Island-based instructor Todd Anderson, who continues to boast Billy Horschel, Harris English and Nick Watney.

According to the article:

"I feel like I've been with one of the top two or three teachers in the world the last eight years and now I feel I am transitioning to one of the top teachers of all time," Brandt Snedeker said.

"Now my main goal is to win major championships and over the past year my game has plateaued and I want to make sure I give myself the best chance to win a major going forward."

PGATour.com followed up on Golf Channel's original article, reporting that one of Snedeker's motivating factors for making the switch was to "bring his ball flight down and to better release the club."

Despite winning multiple times on the PGA Tour last year, Snedeker has struggled so far in 2014. The 2012 FedEx Cup champion boasts just two top-10 finishes so far, and rests 28th in the Ryder Cup points standings. Snedeker has long been considered one of the tour's best putters, but has consistently struggled from tee-to-green. This year he ranks 134th in greens in regulation and 144th in driving distance.

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Instruction

The Do's and Don'ts of getting put on the clock.

By Keely Levins

It was Monday after Fourth of July weekend, and I was on my way to Montammy Golf Club in Apline, N.J., for a U.S. Women's Amateur qualifier. Fortunately, a series of impressively mature decisions over the weekend led to me not being hungover. Win. Unfortunately, I had to wake up early enough to beat the traffic. I hit snooze, and thus didn't have time to make coffee. Big loss.

I went through all the motions of warming up, tried not to cry when I hit putts on a practice green that was lightning fast and tried to channel my inner Lexi Thompson off the first tee.

All was going as it should: Pins were impossible to get to and misses of a few yards turned pars into a distant dream. Annoying, but expected. The first six holes were pretty slow, and my group waited on just about every shot. But things opened up after that. Then we made the turn.

We handed in our scores for the first nine so my co-workers could check live-scoring to see how I was doing in a real golf event. (Not well. But thanks for cheering, guys.) An official came up to our group and told us that we were nine minutes behind the group in front of us, 18 minutes off pace, and were being put on the clock. As if the day wasn't hard enough. They'd start timing us, and if we fell off pace, stroke penalties to the whole group would be divvied out.

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Ultimately, we got back on pace and no penalties were awarded. Here are a few Do's and Don'ts I learned from getting put on the clock:
 
1. Don't make snarky comments about pace of play within earshot of an official. 

OK, this one was my bad. When we were put on the clock I could see my two playing partners tense up immediately. Yeah, it is a big deal -- no one wants an unnecessary penalty. But stressing about it isn't going to help your play at all. And if you start hitting bad shots, you're only going to get slower. So, to lighten the mood, I said to my playing partners, "Maybe they'll credit us all the time we spent waiting on the first six holes, then we'll be on pace." The official heard me. And didn't laugh. Whoops.

2. Do start playing ready golf.

Pretty much the easiest way to get things moving along: Whoever's ready should hit. No questions asked. My group did an awesome job of this. We weren't rushing, and we just weren't waiting in unnecessary places.

3. Don't stress about how unfair it is to be on the clock.

Easy to do -- especially when we were a threesome following two twosomes, and being followed by another twosome. Obviously we're going to be slower, we've got a whole extra round of golf going on! I felt myself wanting to explain that to every official who was eyeing us on those next few holes (and there were plenty). But that would've been a waste of energy -- energy that I obviously needed to try and tame the beast of a golf course I'd somehow gotten myself on.

4. Do run.

You know how you're not supposed to run on a golf course? Well, a few holes after being put on the clock we were on the tee of a par 3. We hit our shots and the official said if we didn't finish the hole in four-and-a-half minutes, we'd receive that penalty we were warned about earlier. Yeah, I bolted for that green. No shame.

5. Don't ask for the pin to be put back in when you have three minutes to putt.

One of my playing partners was on the fringe on said par 3 and walked down, but my other playing partner and I had already gotten to the green and pulled the flag. She asked for it to be put back in. Of course you're allowed to have the pin in when you're on the fringe. But when a penalty is on the line, deal with the pin already being out. A pace-of-play penalty is special in that everyone in the group gets strokes. Being selfish in a dire moment like that could've cost everyone. (Which wouldn't have been cool, because the third girl in my group had a good round going and knew she had a chance to qualify -- she eventually did. Woo!)

6. Do be nice to all the officials.

Being put on the clock is miserable, and sometimes feels like it's unwarranted. But in the end, the officials are fighting the good fight for pace of play. Which everyone should support. 

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Instruction

Make The Turn Challenge #17: Hit for the cycle

By Jeff Ritter

The entire premise behind high-level golf is the ability to demonstrate control over the golf ball. In practice, I’d say most golfers are looking to create and feel solid “contact” but very few are actually working to understand and experience the factors associated with control. 


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If you really want to raise that “Golf IQ” I often refer to in these weekly blog posts, this MTT challenge will certainly do the trick. To “hit for the cycle” simply means that during any given practice session you prove the ability to hit pretty much any shot. In the video, the goal is to start by learning how to produce a draw, fade and on-line hit. If you wanted to make this exercise even tougher, however, you could also include creating the same flight patterns in low, medium and high trajectories as well. 

This is one of those Ben Hogan, “dig it out of the dirt” kind of practice routines that really forces you to learn something. It’s about imagination, feel, and above all educating yourself in the factors that control ball flight. If you’re someone who gets a little overly technical in an attempt to develop your version of a  perfect swing, this is also great way to infuse some freedom and creativity back into your game. 

If you can do this, there’s no doubt you can really play. Prove that you have the skill to shift your ball flight at will, and you can count this MTT challenge as complete! 

Benefits

Increased Golf IQ
Improved shotmaking ability 
Develop self-coaching skills 



Jeff Ritter is the CEO/Founder of MTT Performance. The program operates out of Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach, Calif. Follow him on Twitter at @mttgolf ... Read
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