The mind trick Rory McIlroy learned to improve his putting

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy hits a putt during last week's PGA Championship.

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Rory McIlroy, on the Monday ahead of the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational, had been struggling with his putting. But it wasn’t as if he was missing everything. As he left a three-hour summit with Brad Faxon at the Bear’s Club in Florida, the coach, himself one of golf’s great putters, gave McIlroy one more piece of instruction. 

Keep a different kind of greens book. 

“I spent a lot of time working with a sports psychologist you would know named Bob Rotella, who helped a lot of players,” Faxon said this week on The Player Series, a podcast hosted by Gary Player. “And Rotella had some great quotes from some great players. And one of my favorites was from Mark Twain that was: The inability to forget is infinitely more devastating than the inability to remember. 

“And one of the things when he went to Bay Hill after we spent that time at the Bears Club, I said, look, I just want you on every day, I want you to write down or think about the feel of a great putt you hit that day. And it doesn’t even have to have gone in because everybody’s hit beautiful putts that don’t go in. And how you respond to those is really important, right? You know, if you’re in a good mood and you’re playing great and you hit a good putt and it doesn’t go in, you go, I’m going to make the next one. If you’re not in a good mood, if your mindset’s in a wrong place, you go, there I am, I’m screwed again. … 

“And I think that’s what greats, over a long period of time, were able to do.”

Six days later, McIlroy gained 10.027 strokes on the field on the greens and won the event by three. And when Faxon recently rated his top 10 putters of all time, he put McIlroy 10th. 

“If anybody wants to have lessons on putting, they got to come to you,” Player said on the podcast. “So double your fee.”

How Rory McIlroy’s putting stroke went from ‘wooden’ to ‘free-flowing’
By: Dylan Dethier

As originally reported by Irish Independent writer Paul Kimmage last year, McIlroy’s meeting with Faxon in 2018 began with a couple of hours of coffee and conversation. “He’s very intuitive,” McIlroy said of Faxon to Kimmage. “He says, ‘From outside looking in, it looks like you’re a ‘feel’ player. Would you like to have that in your putting?’ I said, ‘Well, one thing I’ve found is that my putting has never matched up to the rest of my game. I’ve been wooden and technical on this side, and free-flowing on the other.’”

From there, they went to a green — with a putter, sand wedge and 5-wood. 

“And he got me to putt from eight feet,” McIlroy said in the Independent. “I hit three putts with the putter and holed one of them; three with the sand wedge and holed two of them; and I holed three in a row with the 5-wood.

“He says, ‘I wanted to prove something to you. A lot of putting nowadays is very technical and mechanical — you have to have the right length putter with the right lie and the right loft. That thing [the 5-wood] has 19 degrees [loft] and is about 10 inches too long, and you’ve just holed three in a row. That’s what you need to get back to. It needs to be instinctive.’ And it was such a massive flip. We had that one session on Monday afternoon, and I went to Bay Hill and had the best putting week of my career.”

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