AskAlan: What’s REALLY up with Rory?

September 20, 2017

”Any scenario at the Tour Championship where Spieth or JT isn’t Player of the Year? What if DJ wins? Thanks! #AskAlan” – @EthanZimman

Lacking a major championship victory, Dustin has no shot at POY, not with the exceptionally strong competition this year. The interesting question is what happens if Spieth wins the Tour Championship. That would give him the FedEx Cup trophy and four wins, not to mention the season’s single most memorable performance (the Open) and indelible moment (the hole-out at Hartford). His other win is also marquee: Pebble Beach. Thomas would end the wrap-around season with five victories, which is a very significant number. (Nevermind that one actually came during in 2016, the CIMB.) He, too, had a couple of magical moments: the 59 at the Sony and 63 at the U.S. Open, which is one of the most electric rounds I’ve ever seen. Even if Spieth wins the Tour Championship, and thus the FedEx Cup, my vote goes to Thomas. The extra victory is a big deal, and he gets bonus points for also contending at the U.S. Open, while Spieth only factored at one major this year. Congrats to JT on the Shipnuckian honor.    

“Of only the current top 5 in the FedEx Cup standings going into East Lake, which winner would be most #GoodForGolf and why? A few narratives in play…” – @CodyIsles  

Not Thomas, as this year has already been a monumental  breakthrough. Not Leishman, because while he’s a lovely bloke the guy is not exactly the crossover star golf needs. A Jon Rahm victory would be welcome – he’s played at an exceptionally high level all season but it’s been a long time since his only Stateside win, way back at Torrey. A Spieth victory would  move the needle more than a Rahm win – the Golden Child now looks like the most important player of the post-Tiger era, so every win and achievement takes on more historical weight. But I think the best #narrative is a Dustin Johnson victory. Last season was a huge step forward for this mercurial talent and it’s important to keep building on it. It’s a bummer that a freakish fall torpedoed him in the majors but if DJ takes the Tour Championship that’s five big-time wins this year and a stranglehold on the number one ranking. That’s a great season by any definition and further positions him for a monster 2018.

“How many hybrids in the bag before you lose your man card? Asking for a friend. #AskAlan” – John (@jkellegrew)  

Two has become standard in many/most bags. Three hybrids is an admission of weakness but still socially acceptable. Barely. Four is definitely a man card violation.    

“Don’t you think narrower fairways + PROPER rough would solve the ‘ball goes too far’ problem?” – Duncan (@sghgolfer)  

Well, it makes for higher scores, if that’s the goal. But when the rough gets really thick it reduces shotmaking – everyone is simply forced to bunt the ball back into the fairway, and hack-out shots around the greens do not reward the most skilled players. Similarly, if the fairways are too narrow many players will elect to not hit driver, leading to boring, defensive golf that takes away one of the most important (and thrilling) parts of the game. This is the pickle tournament golf finds itself in: it has become very, very difficult to find the right setup that challenges the pros without turning the proceedings into a slog, a la Quail Hollow.  

“What’s up with all of the golf pros wearing white after Labor Day ??” – Ted (@twswdfish)  

Honestly, it should be a two-shot penalty to show up on the first tee in white shoes, white pants, white belt, and a white hat.

“What’s *really* up with Rory? Is there a possibility that this is it and he ends up not adding any more to his current total of 4 majors? #AskAlan” – Tristan (@TrisRosen)  

It’s not that hard to diagnose what ails McIlroy: while he is 3rd in strokes gained driving this season, he’s an abysmal 141st in putting. His short-iron play has been even worse: from 100-125 yards he’s 145th in proximity to the hole and from 125-150 he checks in at 194th. Given that these are typical distances McIlroy has left on par-4s, this is quite problematic. Driving it like a god and then repeatedly squandering the scoring opportunities saps a player’s will to live; no wonder Sergio Garcia looked like a dead man walking for the better part of the last decade. Rory has been candid that his rib injury has affected his ability to practice and prepare, so his untidiness with the scoring clubs can be largely excused in the short-term. Unfortunately, this is part of a larger trend. During his blockbuster 2014 season he was a solid 41st in strokes gained putting and ranked 24th from 100-125 yards and 11th from 125-50. The numbers slipped in 2015 but he didn’t play enough rounds in to qualify for the strokes gained stats. But in 2016, Rory plummeted to 135th in putting and was 99th from 100-125 yards and 63rd from 125-150.

Perhaps the wedge play can be cleaned up with a lot of hard work; that has been Dustin’s recipe for success. But very few players become better putters after a decade on Tour. It’s also fair to wonder where Rory’s head and heart is, given that he has looked frustrated/miserable for the better part of the last two seasons. When you’ve got a couple hundred million dollars in the bank and a lovely new bride, it’s human nature to not want to  grind so hard anymore. The problem is that there are a lot of younger, hungrier players who are balls-to-the-wall right now. It would be preposterous to suggest McIlroy will never win another major, but to get back to where he was he needs to stay healthy, get refocused and address some serious weaknesses in his game.    

“When the FedEx Cup finale moves to August, do you anticipate the Tour Championship remaining at East Lake?” – @TheBrianEvenson  

Gawd, I hope not.  

“Forget Fowler’s inability to win a major – he barely wins at all. Thomas has more wins this year than Fowler in his career. What’s the deal? #AskAlan” – @LenHochberg    

There’s nothing Rickie Fowler can’t do to a golf ball. In a casual game he might be the best player in the world; the stories are legion about his Tuesday practice round heroics, and he’s set a bunch of course records throughout South Florida. But clearly he gets in his own way when the tournament proper begins. I still think he’ll figure out the mental aspect of the game and become a more consistent winner. But Fowler is approaching 29, which, in golf-terms, is now practically middle-aged, and the scar tissue is building up. It’s definitely time for a breakthrough. And quickly.    

“Why should I watch the Tour Championship? #AskAlan – Matt (@PurdueMatt05)  

Because however boring it may be – and chances are it will be rather boring – it’s still  more fun than watching football.  

“Is Leishman elite?” – @mickelsonesque  

At the 2015 British Open I offered a less than enthusiastic assessment of Leishman on Twitter and my friends in Australia responded by calling me a cockwomble, muppet, arsehole, knob jockey, malaka, tosser, wanker, flog, mug, and roaster, among other things. So all I’m going to say to this question is: not yet!