‘Wild six months’ propels McIlroy back to No. 1

by | Oct 25, 2022 | Golf Balls

For the 11th time in his career, Rory McIlroy is the top-ranked golfer in the world. Considering his play over the last six months, that fact seemed all but inevitable. His win at the CJ Cup on Sunday pushed him past Scottie Scheffler and into the lead position once again.

Over the last six months, he didn’t win as often as he would have liked, especially in majors, but his play was exceptionally steady. He logged three victories, including the RBC Canadian Open, and aside from a missed cut at the FedEx St. Jude Championship, finished inside the top 20 in every start over that stretch. That included nine top-10 finishes.

It was a brilliant display of consistency and yet getting back to top spot was certainly not something McIlroy saw as possible last April.

“If someone had told me on the Friday night of the Valero Texas Open when I missed the cut that I would be world No. 1 by October,” stated McIlroy, “I would have asked them what they were smoking because I would not have believed them.

“It’s just been a wild six months. I figured a few things out with my game and I’ve just been on a really good run.”

There were undoubtedly mechanical improvements that contributed to his low scores. For instance, his ball speed was tracked at 187 miles per hour on Sunday, about seven miles per hour faster than just two years ago. More speed, more yards off the tee. He finished first in driving distance on the PGA Tour.

His approach play and scrambling were also improved and his putter was more consistent. In 1,080 holes played last season, he made just 32 three-putts countered by 486 one-putts. Much of that is due to assistance from former tour players Brad Faxon, one of golf’s best putters, and Dr. Bob Rotella, a leading sports psychologist.

He also switched to a different golf ball at the Masters, which helped him card that spectacular final-round 64.

“I feel like with being able to fall back on your putting, it takes pressure off your iron play, it takes pressure off your short game, it takes pressure off your driving,” McIlroy stated. “You know that if you can get it up there within 10 feet, whether it’s for birdie or for par, feeling really comfortable with the flat stick, it makes the rest of the game just that little bit easier.”

All those contributed to his rise back to the top of the world ranking, but arguably the biggest improvement wasn’t found on Trackman or with a new putter grip but in his head and his heart. Since the last time he was No. 1 in the world, a lot has gone on his life, from the birth of his daughter, Poppy, to the COVID-19 pandemic to the creation of the LIV Golf series. All of that seems to have altered his perspective on the game he plays for work.

“I’ve worked so hard over the last 12 months to get back to this place,” McIlroy told Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis. “I feel like I’m enjoying the game as much as I ever have. I played with that joy and it’s definitely showed over these last few months.”

A year ago, McIlroy won the CJ Cup when it was played in Las Vegas. He came into that week ranked 14th in the world and, it seemed, a long, long way from top spot. Too often his driver was wayward, his short iron play was erratic and his putter ran cold more often than hot. More than anything he seemed frustrated at his scorecard.

It was there that he decided to not only change his mechanics, but also his outlook. Week by week seemed happier on the course and less perturbed when the day didn’t go his way. He appeared to enjoy the challenge of fixing his game.

Perhaps the distraction of being the de facto spokesperson for the PGA Tour in its battle with LIV Golf helped. He certainly seemed to enjoy lobbing shots at the Saudi-backed league’s CEO Greg Norman as he did after winning the RBC Canadian Open for his 21st PGA Tour title, one more than the Great White Shark.

The attitude adjustment and the enjoyment of simply playing the game was clear. He seemed to be happier in his life and that leaked into his golf game.

McIlroy has one more tournament left on his 2022 calendar, the DP World Tour Championship in November. Then he’ll re-set for the new PGA Tour schedule of elevated tournaments he helped create. And he’ll try to maintain his spot on top of the world rankings, all the while enjoying it too.

original article can be found here