Rory McIlroy brings in Butch Harmon to solve the two-swing conundrum before Masters

By | April 3, 2024

Rory McIlroy has gone to Butch Harmon for another opinion on his golf swing – Getty Images/Stuart Franklin

Rory McIlroy has turned to respected coach Butch Harmon as he tries to solve his two-swing conundrum in time for next week’s Masters.

The world number 2 will play the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio as he prepares for his 10th attempt to become the sixth player in history to complete the career grand slam. Since the exciting start to the season in Dubai in January – where he finished second and first – McIlroy has performed indifferently on the PGA Tour, with just one top-20 finish in five tournaments.

The 34-year-old has made no secret of the fact that he is struggling with his game, especially his approach game. He’s been working hard over the past two weeks, and last week he was seen in Michael Jordan’s ultra-exclusive Grove XXIII near his home in South Florida.

McIlroy has had some extensive sessions on the track with Michael Bannon, his fellow Ulsterman who has overseen the famous rhythmic move since the four-time major winner was eight years old. It has emerged – first via the American website GolfWRX – that he also sought Harmon’s renowned advice.

The 80-year-old guided Tiger Woods to his first eight major victories, including three Green Jackets, and also enjoyed Augusta success with Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson. Harmon has retired from the grind of Tour life, but still teaches from his base in Las Vegas.

England’s Tommy Fleetwood is now a client and on Wednesday McIlroy’s management confirmed to Telegraph Sport that he too had made use of all that experience when he made the 3,000km journey to Harmon’s academy two weeks ago.

It’s not the first time he’s consulted Harmon. In the midst of one of his mini-slumps in 2021, he sought the expertise of the guru whose father, Claude, won the Masters 76 years ago.

“The one thing I like about Butch is that he has worked with so many players,” McIlroy said. “So if you try to explain to him, ‘Look, I’m trying to do this or I’m trying to create that feeling,’ the database of players he’s worked with over the years, he might say, ‘Well, Freddie Couples felt this, or Tiger did this, or DJ felt that.’ It’s always nice to have that reference.”

McIlroy has admitted that he is in a dilemma regarding his ‘feelings’ with his clubs and it comes down to what certain experts insist is the age-old paradox of his swing.

He is undoubtedly one of golf’s best drivers, but from 150 yards his shortcomings have become all too apparent of late. He leads the PGA Tour’s ‘Total Driving’ stats this campaign, but is 119th in the ‘Strokes Gained – Approach Play’ charts.

The most important metric at Augusta is Proximity to Hole, so McIlroy’s urgency is understandable and he addressed the disruption to his play at his final event – The Players – the week before his Harmon pilgrimage.

“I have a great feeling with my woods right now, but when I try to recreate that feeling with the irons, it starts to the left and goes further to the left,” he said on his way to a tie for 19th at the flagship tournament of the PGA Tour. . ‘I think it’s because you turn the wood harder, you create a kind of open space [your body] more difficult.

“I like the feeling of shooting along the target line with my right arm, and I can do that very well with my wood. But when I try to do that with my irons, the clubface closes and goes to the left. They almost look like two different swings. I have a swing thought for my woods and I need a different swing thought for my irons, and I’ve been working on that.”

His gremlins at Augusta are folklore and many doubt he will ever overcome the mental hurdle. But purely in terms of the “two swing”, is it between the ears or between the shoulder blades?

Instructors have previously claimed that McIlroy has a so-called ‘back-axis swing’ with his woods – which essentially means that most of his mass remains above his right leg at impact – while with his irons it is a ‘front-axis swing’ . -axis swing”, with his weight on his left leg. This is problematic because, as McIlroy has pointed out, top golfers like to play shots and not swing during a competitive match.

“I have to remind myself on the tee box that this is a wood, and I get to the fairway, and this is an iron, and I have two different feelings and two different thoughts,” he said at Sawgrass.

However, Pete Cowen disagrees with the two-swing assessment. The Yorkshireman, who rivals Harmon for the moniker of ‘the best coach in the world’, worked with McIlroy in 2022 when he briefly left Bannon and inevitably came to understand the weakness that has prevented him, certainly more than any other, from a fifth to win a major. and a first in ten years.

“It’s not about two strokes, it’s about speed,” Cowen told Telegraph Sport on Wednesday. “Rory is able to square the face and hit it from the center at 120 to 130 mph. But it struggles at lower speeds. So he has trouble with ball flight with wedges. When people think it’s a two-swing problem.”

What isn’t in dispute is that McIlroy needs a quick fix if he wants to challenge among the pines of Augusta next week and it will be fascinating to see in the coming days at TPC San Antonio if the Harmon Effect has taken hold. “I’m under no illusions that the clock is ticking,” McIlroy said.

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