It’s tempting to think that such physical ease must be a gift unfairly dispensed by God, and to wonder why it was bestowed on a pudding-faced young Ulsterman who trots across the golf course like a shaggy puppy. Surely it can’t be learned. Actually, it can. True story. McIlroy was 4 years old when his father Gerry took him to the Holywood golf club in the suburbs of Belfast and turned him over to an assistant club pro named Michael Bannon, who, unlike some video-toting, nonsense-spouting charlatans, believes that when it comes to golf simpler is better. Bannon gave McIlroy a lesson in the proper grip, and told him to practice by holding it the right way for several minutes every day. McIlroy was such an earnest student he took the club to bed with him, and slept with it gripped correctly in his sticky little hands.
We don’t know yet whether McIlroy is going to fulfill his immense promise in the U.S. Open at Congressional, whether he can endure the spine-caving pressure of trying to win his first major championship at the age of only 22. What we do know, what can be said with absolute certainty, is that he has the best swing anyone has seen in generations, a pure and effortless dynamic that has made mincemeat out of Congressional and the record book for two rounds, and which should change the way the game is taught. “It’s the best swing in golf,” says NBC’s tough critic, Johnny Miller.
Try to unpack McIlroy’s swing, technically. You can’t. That’s because it’s all one piece. The secret to it is simplicity: He doesn’t indulge in the continual tedious breakdowns of his motion that other players do, second-guessing his swing planes and accelerations and points of contacts and ball flights. McIlroy has only had one teacher, Bannon, and they finished working on his swing when he was 14. “His mind isn’t cluttered up with technical garbage and psychological babble,” observes the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.
Not long ago, McIlroy deconstructed his process for Golf Digest. “I like to swing with no fear,” he said. “I’m a grip it and rip it guy. . . . Over the ball, I think about nothing other than the target. I don’t focus on technique. But, under pressure, I do use one simple swing thought: I pick a spot a foot in front of the ball and hit over it — hard. That takes my mind off the outcome of the shot and keeps me in the process.”
Bannon taught McIlroy with a six-step method — available online in DVD form — that emphasized an impeccable grip, setup and posture. They haven’t tampered with him since. That simplicity gave McIlroy control and confidence. “It became just like automatic to him, like eating your dinner with a knife and fork,” Bannon told the Belfast Telegraph. “Rory’s club in his hand was just like that.”