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Monday, 11 April 2016

Is Rory On the Right Track?

I have always been a Rory McIlroy fan.  When he burst onto the golf scene as a baby-faced, mop-haired golfing prodigy, it wasn't hard to forecast that he would be a great champion.  He made the game look easy.  In terms of talent, he has it in spades.  Perhaps no one in the game can run with him when he's driving it well and holing putts.  He's that talented.

But lately there is more attention seemingly being paid to his workouts in the gym than his golf swing.  Nike commercials have focussed more on his efforts to become a finely tuned athlete than a golfer.  He has become a powerfully built young man.  Even commentators were quick to point out that his pullover looked like a Superman shirt, displaying his rippling muscles.  Unfortunately, there has been nothing super about his performance in the Majors since his win at the PGA in 2014.

The other day Brandel Chamblee, who has received some criticism for questioning Rory's rather extreme workout routine, pointed out that his swing speed has actually decreased since he's built this new body.  We've seen it before.  I have worried that Rory seems to headed down the same road as Tiger Woods, who built a new muscular body and actually became a worse golfer.  

There are many who want to argue that golf is now dominated by bigger, stronger athletes.  Nike certainly seems to want to drive that agenda, perhaps hoping to make golf have a greater appeal to a wider audience.  The fact is that Bobby Jones was right when he observed that golf is a cerebral game, played on the five inch course between your ears.  Bobby also said that power in the golf swing comes from speed and not the kind of muscles used to bend iron bars.  Guys like Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Danny Willett, and many more prove it to be true.  So do guys like Bernhard Langer and Tom Watson who have remained competitive for so long.

I'm a Rory fan.  But I think, after another lacklustre performance at the Masters, and a relatively lacklustre start to the season, Rory needs to get his eye back on the ball.  He needs to spend less time building muscle and more time working on his mental game.  He needs to focus on making fewer bogeys, instead of increasing the amount of weight he can deadlift, or squat.

Rory may still be one of the most talented ball strikers in the game, but he's certainly losing ground to better "players."  I want to see him back in winning form.  But I fear he's taken his eye off the ball.  I fear he may actually be hurting himself with the enormous amount of work he's putting in to the game.  

My fear is that once Rory has changed his body as dramatically as he has, he may not be able to go back.  Don't you think Tiger doesn't often wish he could go back to swinging it like he did as a lanky kid?  I fear Rory may some day feel the same.  Even if Rory can manage to return to his previous form with his new and improved body, the question the becomes how long can he keep himself at that sort of peak physical form? And, was it even necessary in the first place?   

Bubba Watson hits it miles without bulging biceps.  Rickie Fowler moves it out there despite being a slightly built guy.  And besides, haven't we learned yet that top golf is more about driving it straight, managing your game, and holing putts than being a bomber?  Rory is prone to the careless bogey.  He seems to sometimes lack the concentration and intensity he obviously takes to the gym when he's on the golf course.

I just hope Rory starts fine-tuning his golfing mind as much as he's tuned his body.  Golf is ultimately a mind game.  Ultimately, of course, the decision is Rory's to make.  How hard he works in and out of the gym is up to him.  I just know that Bobby Jones would recommend a much different approach.  He advised players not to waste time on the range unless they had something specific to work on.  He advised golfers to give their minds and their bodies a rest.  And he advised golfers not to get too physically fine-tuned prior to competing as this tended to put the nerves on edge.  Bobby Jones may not have had the advantages of the scientific knowledge available today.  But in terms of golfing knowledge, he remains unmatched.

Only time will tell who's right--Bobby Jones, or those "experts" who have advised Rory to go in this current direction.  But I know who I'd be listening to.