Phil Kenyon’s phone was red hot when he arrived at the KLM Open in Holland last week. Text messages and tweets—including one from European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke—greeted the putting coach after Rory McIlroy’s win in the Deutsche Bank Championship.
With Hazeltine National coming up, Kenyon could emerge as the most valuable resource in Clarke’s team room. Besides McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose, Kenyon is also credited with Lee Westwood’s resurgence, as well as the putting improvements of Chris Wood, Andy Sullivan and Matthew Fitzpatrick.
“I’ve been out here 10 years,” Kenyon told me, “and nobody has paid attention to me.”
Truth is, Kenyon likes it that way. He’s not a self-promoter, and looking at the list of players he works with, he’s not hurting for business. Not with his success rate.
Stenson’s putting exhibition in the Open Championship at Royal Troon was the first time Kenyon’s name started surfacing outside the European Tour. When Rose won the Olympic gold medal at Rio, he gave thanks to Kenyon. But it was McIlroy’s first win in the United States in 2016 that led to the 42-year-old Englishman really getting his due.
At McIlroy’s opening news conference before the BMW Championship, he admitted he had been in regular contact with Dave Stockton during this summer’s putting slump. Stockton’s work helped produce McIlroy’s win in the 2012 PGA Championship and last year’s blowout victory at the Wells Fargo Championship, but this time, McIlroy wasn’t looking for somebody to become too hands on, instead wanting to figure out his issues on the greens on his own.
In March, McIlroy posted a video of himself on Instagram putting cross-handed and explained at the WGC-Cadillac Championship that he was trying to “deactivate” his right hand. Turns out, it was only a three-month experiment.
Coming off his win at the Irish Open in late May, McIlroy went back to a conventional stroke at the Memorial, saying, “I won that tournament [in Ireland] on ball-striking alone.”
Ultimately, McIlroy sought out Kenyon, a disciple of British putting guru Harold Swash who mixes old-school principles with the latest in modern putting technology. McIlroy reached out the Saturday night of the PGA Championship at Baltusrol, after missing his second major cut in 2016. They met only once, at Kenyon’s studio in Formby, England.
Among the tools Kenyon, who records his data on high-speed cameras, uses are the SAM Putting Lab, Quintic Ball Roll software and a hydraulic putting green. McIlroy took a month to study the numbers and evaluate the relationship before deciding to go with Kenyon.
What McIlroy liked is that none of the players Kenyon works with look exactly the same, each free to employ their mannerisms. After left-hand low, McIlroy didn’t want another method that required getting into a position that wasn’t comfortable.
Kenyon has a master’s degree in Sports Science, and his experience playing on the mini-tours in Europe gives him a good perspective on how players think. Says McIlroy: “He was more, you figure it out yourself a little bit, but this is what you need to do; this is where you need the putter to be at certain points in your stroke, and then just figure out a way to do it.”
True to form, Kenyon didn’t want to be quoted directly on his work with McIlroy, reciting only the Aristotle proverb, “One swallow does not a summer make.”
Perhaps, but a claret jug for Stenson, an Olympic victory for Rose and a playoff win for McIlroy have certainly made people pay attention to Phil Kenyon’s summer—and what the fall could bring on the greens at Hazeltine.
Editor's Note: This story first appeared in the Sept. 12, 2016 issue of Golf World.