McIlroy turning to mind games
Rory McIlroy crossed a threshold yesterday when he was accompanied by Dr Bob Rotella on the front nine at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, venue for this week's Honda Classic.
Arguably the most gifted young player in golf, McIlroy hopes Rotella, the game's foremost mind guru, can help him convert raw talent into tournament victories.
McIlroy has produced a string of impressive performances in the 13 months since his breakthrough win at last year's Dubai Desert Classic, including eight top-five finishes in his last 12 competitive outings.
Yet, for all the youngster's success and his continuing status as Ireland's top player at No 9 in the world rankings issued yesterday, that victory in Dubai remains his solitary success on Tour.
Like Padraig Harrington, who credits two Bobs (Rotella and Scottish swing coach Torrance) for helping him become a three-time Major champion, McIlroy is determined to leave no avenue unexplored in the pursuit of excellence.
Harrington explains that the greatest gift Rotella has given him is the ability to put a hyper-active mind into neutral. To clearly see the right shot (nothing else) and simply hit it — the outstanding example being his 5-wood into 17 at Royal Birkdale for that victory-clinching eagle at the 2008 Open.
Already familiar with Rotella's teachings through books like ‘Golf Is Not A Game Of Perfect' (which is Harrington's ‘bible'), McIlroy hopes the psychologist can help him develop an effective pre-shot routine to reinforce the putting technique he's learned from Dr Paul Hurrion.
The youngster also went into yesterday's first session especially eager to hear any advice the doctor might have on sharpening-up his mental approach on Sundays at tournaments.
While teenager Ryo Ishikawa has drawn confidence from his seven victories on the Japan Tour, winning has yet to become a habit for McIlroy on the tougher European and US circuits. So a tip or two from Rotella certainly would not go amiss.
“It's not that I think anything is wrong with me or my game,” McIlroy said.
“I just think that he can help me in some way and it's definitely not going to hurt.
“I feel as if my putting can get better and I think he can point
me in the right direction with pre-shot routine, how to think leading up to hitting the putt. Stuff like that.
“I've read all of his books over the years and find what he says really interesting and appealing.
“I think this could make a couple of shots' difference in tournaments and hopefully turn my top-threes and top-fives into wins. If that happens, it'll be a very worthwhile exercise.
“This is about getting experience and thinking about things at the right time — not hitting it longer or anything like that.”
McIlroy hopes he will be untroubled on his return to the Honda Classic this week by the back strain which hampered his defence of the Dubai Desert Classic title and may also have undermined his efforts in the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship.
Tied 13th with Sergio Garcia, among others, on his Honda debut last year, McIlroy likes Palm Beach Gardens, though not as much as Harrington, who won here on his first appearance in 2005 and finished inside the top-20 on two subsequent visits.
Though his placing at No 49 in yesterday's world rankings ensures Graeme McDowell of his place in next week's CA World Championship of Golf at Doral, the Portrush man is also under pressure to produce a top-flight performance on a sponsor's invite to the Honda Classic.
On the opposite side of the planet, Darren Clarke, Peter Lawrie and Gary Murphy tee it up in the Malaysian Open at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club which also begins on Thursday as the European Tour resumes after a two-week break.
Yet most attention will be on Florida and McIlroy's bid to win golf's mind-games when it really matters — on the back nine next Sunday.