Rory McIlroy is one of the most naturally gifted golfers of all time. Despite his relatively small stature, he is able to generate a tremendous amount of power. His iron play can be scintillatingly good when he’s dialled in, and his touch and imagination around the greens is top-drawer. On the putting surfaces, things aren’t quite so good. On the PGA Tour this year, he’s ranked inside the top four off the tee and on approach, but he’s 84th in total putting. When it comes to the final round, when the pressure builds, he’s 155th on the putts per round charts. He’s technically solid with the putter, smooth and solid. He also tends to be bold, giving putts a chance. So where is the problem? Could it be something more difficult to pick up on and, perhaps admit to?… that Rory isn’t very good at reading greens?
How many times in recent Majors have we seen Rory looking bemused at a putt he thought he’d struck well in the right direction only to see it drifting away from the hole at the end of its roll? At The Open this year at Royal Liverpool, Rory looked like going on a run in both the third and the fourth run but the putts just would not drop. It was particularly frustrating for Rory fans to watch Brian Harman holing everything in sight!
Rory needs help. He needs someone on the bag who is an absolute dead eye when it comes to reading putting surfaces. Rory's current caddie Harry Diamond, for all his qualities, clearly isn’t that man. Whether he sees it the same as Rory or is just unwilling to overrule his man, too often they simply get the read wrong.
There’s no doubt that Rory and Harry Diamond get on hugely well and enjoy each other’s company on the course. Diamond seems to be a great support to his old pal. He has a calm demeanour and does all the right things from tee to green. But, perhaps, on the putting surfaces, Rory might benefit from another pair of experienced eyes. The 34-year-old is brilliant at almost everything in golf, but possessing a preternatural feel for how a ball is going to run across a surface is not on his list of skills.
Rory is so good overall that he can win despite lacking a little in the green-reading department – He and Harry have won plenty together… They won the week before Hoylake in the Scottish Open... But, they haven't won a Major. Not when the greens become more complex owing to the more challenging nature of Major course set-ups, not when the pressure really mounts down the stretch of a US Open or an Open Championship. In those circumstances, players must have total conviction in their choice of line but first of all, and this is where Rory sometime struggles, they must have the right line in the first place!
Imagine if Rory had a caddie who did have that innate ability to help him? To say – ‘No Rory, it’s straight.’ Or even to just correctly re-affirm his assessment, ‘You’re right, one cup left.’
If Rory had an authority on green reading to give him absolute confidence in his lines, it might just be the difference in helping him win Majors again. It’s worth a try, isn’t it?
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Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly.
Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?
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