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Rory McIlory has recruited Pete Cowen as his new swing coach.
Last night, The Telegraph learned that McIlroy will be working with the Yorkshireman in an effort to regain his form.
McIlroy, 31, has struggled to find the form that saw him head into 2020 with reason to be upbeat. Lest we forget – and many have – McIlroy endured a run of seven events from October 2019 that saw him finish T2, T3, Win, T3, T5, 5 and T5. But when Covid hit, the Northern Irishman’s form dipped.
The change to Cowen, one of the most respected and hard-hitting coaches in the game, comes after a 23-year spell with ex Hollywood club pro, Michael Bannon. But, crucially, it also follows an admission from McIlroy that he had been influenced by Bryson DeChambeau’s search for extra yards.
Possible swing changes
Cowen’s philosophy is based around a drill that he calls the ‘spiral staircase’. This allows the golfer to focus on how their weight should move around the body, from set-up to the finish.
Henrik Stenson, the 2016 Open champion, made the decision to work with Cowen because he lacked the control he needed off the tee to compete with the best. Stenson, below, would work through this drill every day, solidifying each movement until it was engrained in his swing.
Given that McIlroy now struggles to find a consistent pattern off the tee, this may be the starting point Cowen opts for. Although the concept is fairly straightforward, the process won’t be.
Swing changes can take an entire season to take affect, and there is no guarantee they will work under pressure. But as Paul McGinley alluded to on Sky Sports two weeks ago, McIlroy’s stats make for grim reading, so change is probably due.
We know McIlroy is a long hitter, but is he an accurate one? He’s currently ranked 142nd in driving accuracy, only finding 57% of fairways.
In 2014, arguably his greatest season to date, he was ranked 108th, finding 59% of fairways. Slightly worse off this year, but no real cause for concern.
From 75-100 yards, the current world No.11 finds himself 22’11 feet from the hole on average (198th on the rankings). This is an increase of roughly six feet since 2014, which is significant when it comes to scoring.
For a player who averages 319 yards off the tee – third longest on the PGA Tour – he must find a way to capitalise on those shorter distances if he is to win again.
Perhaps the most glaring stat is McIlroy’s approach play from the middle of the fairway. He’s currently ranked 103rd in proximity to the hole from the short grass, averaging 32ft. In 2014 he was ranked 6th, averaging 28ft. This could be where the answers lie for both coach and player.
Cowen’s biggest test will be to understand why McIlroy fails to find his target from relatively advantageous positions.
McIlroy has not been adverse to swing changes in the past. In 2011, he shortened his swing to refine his ball striking.
The result, below, was a slightly tidier backswing, where the club would stop short of parallel, allowing him to release the club freely into impact without any re-routing. But such drastic changes may not be needed.
McIlroy’s four major wins came in just over a three year period, a remarkable run by anyone’s standards. However, rightly or wrongly, major wins are how we measure his success from year-to-year and he has failed to bag one of the big four since 2014.
But if we take a step back and look at his overall tournament results, McIlroy is no slouch.
So far in 2021, he’s played in ten events, only missing the cut on two occasions. Out of those ten starts, he’s had four top-10s and is currently ranked 37th in the FedEx cup standings. For a run-of-the-mill tour pro, that would be a job well done.
So what does this tell us? Statistically speaking, he’s not that far from his best.
Cowen will only need to find a few extra feet either side of the hole for McIlroy to start winning again. If he can produce these kinds of results with such dismal numbers, the adjustments needed could be relatively straightforward.
The fix that Cowen finds could be an issue that has been staring McIlroy in the face all along. If you pay close attention to the rhythm of his swing, it appears to change from one week to the next. However, some players do swing differently from week to week, depending on the general feel of their game that week.
It’s unlikely that Cowen will make any major swing changes, but the ‘spiral staircase’ could be one option to help with the sequencing of McIlroy’s swing. If the new duo can remedy that, a good rhythm will follow and his confidence will increase.
Considering he is a matter of weeks away from all the hype and pressure of Augusta National and what a Green Jacket would mean in terms of his place in golf history, you have to give him credit for making the move now.
We’ll find out soon if it works.
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