Chasing distance is a dangerous game

Ivan Morris

Rory McIlroy (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Ivan Morris

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You have to give Rory McIlroy full credit. He is nothing but honest. He doesn’t play silly beggars with his interviewers by spewing horse manure. He patiently shares his innermost thoughts after almost every round he plays whether it is good, bad or indifferent. His frankness allows veteran and inveterate students of the swing, like me, to make a stab at understanding of what is going on? Many a golfer down the decades has self-destroyed to the point of no redemption in the pursuit of extra distance. Chasing distance is a dangerous game.

Rory’s admission that he has lost accuracy, control & consistency by chasing speed in an effort to emulate Bryson DeChambeau has hurt his swing. How could he be so naive? Easy! Hasn’t every serious golfer pushed for more distance at some stage? Hitting the ball further (provided you are reasonably straight) usually leads to lower scores for the simple reason you will be nearer the hole.

But, there are no guarantees more distance will make you a better player either. There are other more reliable ways to do it. Like Dustin Johnson’s meticulous wedge practice and Collin Morikawa’s machine-like iron play. Golf is always a work in progress (at every level) and there are so many different aspects to it. It’s why it is such a tantalising game.

It appears that DeChambeau, who started all of this, has seen the light too by toning down his swing, especially with his iron clubs. He has only been hitting flat out two or three times in a round lately and is playing a lot better because of it. The problem for Rory now, with The Masters around the corner, is how to repair the damage and get back to where he wants his golf game to be, quickly?

It was Walter Hagen who said: “It takes six years to make a golfer. Three years to learn the game, then another three years to unlearn all you have learned in the first three years. You might be a golfer when you arrive at that stage but more likely you will only be starting”.

Sir Walter wasn’t wrong. Rory is back at the unlearning stage and it is far from easy. When results do not give a true picture of the performance, golf is hard. At the same time if the game doesn’t drive you to distraction from time to time, you will never be a great player. (Lee Trevino said that!)

The competitive game is all about bringing out your best stuff when it matters most. Not many players can do it and nobody can do it simply at will. There’s nothing quite like the tension of a tournament down the last few holes when everything is on the line. It changes swings (according to ace Master Golf Coach, Michael Hebron) who says: “the golf swing does not exist in a book, magazine, or in someone’s words. The swing is a motion with a life span of less than two seconds. Golf swings do not exist before they are created by golfers and, like human beings each swing is unique, just like every human being is unique”.

Humans are not machines built to follow an exact plan that is repeated exactly the same time after time. Golfers operate in different, ever changing circumstances. Rory is in a circumstance he has never experienced before: self-doubt and confusion. He has to do some ‘unlearning’ – not easy but not impossible either. If he gets through it safely, he’ll be a better player for it.

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2 responses to “Chasing distance is a dangerous game”

  1. Joseph+Dreitler avatar

    Interesting article. However, Rory is not an average golfer. He was world class at 19. That he didn’t have someone around him to say “whoa” or if he did that he didn’t re-think it is the amazing part. Most amateur/recreational golfers try to get more distance buying the latest clubs. It doesn’t work and we cannot “swing faster” without hurting ourselves or swing hard enough to make any significant distance change. We cannot physically exercise at the level of a pro athlete to generate more swing speed. He’s almost 32 and golfing wise, has regressed since 2014. He and others can debate whether his exercise routine and bulking up played any part in that, but it’s a fact he isn’t the golfer he was in August 2014 in Louisville. He’s got 7 years of un-learning to do if he wants to try and do it. Good luck.

  2. Daver avatar

    It may take Rory a while to decompress and re-find his wonderful natural golf swing, but he’s a tough guy with a clear mind. I for one will bet he’ll get there soon.

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