The No. 1 ranked player in the world, Rory McIlroy, walked off the golf course at PGA National in the middle of his round two weeks ago, withdrawing from the Honda Classic. McIlroy was seven over par and had hit three balls into the water. Reporters caught up with McIlroy on his way to the parking lot, and when asked what happened McIlroy responded, “I’m not in a great place mentally. I can’t really say much, guys. I’m just in a bad place mentally.”
An hour later (when he realized the repercussions of his actions) McIlroy issued a statement apologizing for his withdrawal and said it was because of a sore wisdom tooth affecting his concentration. According to his playing partners Mark Wilson and Ernie Els, they had not seen any signs of pain or heard him complain. Moreover, a photographer captured a picture of him eating a sandwich minutes before leaving.
So what’s wrong with McIlroy? There are a few explanations that have been visited by the media. One hypothesis claims his romance with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki is the culprit to his downslide. McIlroy also signed a huge equipment deal with Nike, switching from Titleist, and that may have caused inconsistencies in his game. Another plausible answer is the pressure that comes with being the World’s No. 1 golfer, which has been known to eradicate a few of the game’s greatest players. Finally, it could be the technique in the swing itself, which seems to be the most logical answer. McIlroy explained in a press conference earlier in the week that too much attention is being given to the equipment deal when his swing is the real issue.
So what’s wrong with McIlroy’s swing? As I have explained many times in previous articles, a player’s best chance to play consistent golf is to swing the club on a proper swing plane. Doing so will allow you to make the least amount of un-athletic compensations, as well as decrease curvature and hit the ball solid. McIlroy is no exception. Currently he is swinging the club above the plane on his backswing and under the plane on the downswing. In doing so, he has created a loop in the swing, which causes him to either block the ball to the right or to hit a hard hook to the left. This is what I refer to as Military Golf, and it is one of the most frustrating roads a player can go down. After a few rounds of hitting the ball inconsistently and all over the map, the mental breakdown is inevitable. This is where I think McIlroy’s game currently is. It is a perfect storm of swing technique, equipment changes, intense pressure and mental demons.
The Honda Classic was McIlroy’s third tournament this season. After a poor showing in Abu Dhabi, where he missed the cut, he was then eliminated in the first round in his second appearance at the Accenture Match play. My conclusion is that McIlroy will eventually fix all the demons that have been plaguing him as of late. He is only 23 years old and has his whole life ahead of him. He’s talented and, from what most people testify, he is a great person. Golf is a very difficult game and will humble every player at one time or another. The only card we can always play is to maintain a positive attitude, one that McIlroy decided to fold when he withdrew from the Honda Classic. Anyone know of a good dentist?
Darren deMaille is the Head Golf Professional at The Bridge in Bridgehampton. Prior to The Bridge, Darren worked at The Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Fla. and The Country Club of Fairfield in Fairfield, Conn. Darren has had many top 100 instructors influence his philosophy but most of his principles are based on Jack Nicklaus’ way to play golf.