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Opinion & Analysis

Opinion: Give McIlroy a break



By Ryan David, GolfWRX Contributor

Rory McIlroy isn’t making it easy to be a fan lately. A missed cut in Dubai and a Round-1 loss at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship stirred many observers into voicing concern for his game. His withdraw from the Honda Classic midway through the second round after a miserable start made will make things even worse.

It’s obvious that McIlroy’s has become cluttered in 2013. Swirling in his head is the pressure to perform, keep his No. 1 ranking, play nice with the media and do right by his new equipment sponsor, Nike, who will dump generational wealth into his bank account in the coming years. It should come as no surprise that his game, the physical manfiestation of his mental state, has suffered.

As much as his new clubs are talked about, they’re not the culprit of his struggles. Yes, his entire bag changed, and it may have not been in McIlroy’s best interests to make an equipment change if he hoped to carry over all the momentum he built for himself in 2012. But McIlroy’s real problems are his swing mechanics.

He’s admitted that he’s “under plane” and has said that he’s been working on his swing during rounds — not a place golfers want to be mentally when fractions of an inch can mean the difference between making the cut and packing their bags. The bottom line is that Rory left Nike’s R&D facility, The Oven, with clubs very similar to his Titleists, but with a swing that was flawed.

The Nike deal itself was enough to layer unreasonable pressure to perform. It instantly made the 23-year-old one of the highest paid athletes in professional sports. Along with the money, the timing of the deal dictated that Rory spend his normal vacation time getting acquainted with his new sponsor and their product.

Rory has also had to deal with a new level of celebrity in his personal life. With a high-profile significant other, Rory has been subject to the same kind of media coverage akin to TMZ.  I personally remember my Twitter feed full of marriage speculation that Rory actually responded to. Actual journalists were kicking the question about whether or not he was ready to marry back and forth. A slow news day, perhaps, but also an indicator of the scrutiny placed on an athlete suddenly thrust into the mainstream limelight.

Nike is also a much different animal in terms of media responsibilities and requirements. Before the season even kicked off, he had already starred in a feature spot TV spot. In his understanding that he is under a new, more powerful media microscope, Rory seems to be struggling with the pressure. He appears physically and mentally exhausted on the course and in the interview room.

Now, think back to his play last year. For the most part, you remember the absolute ease in which he won the PGA Championship and his top-notch play in August and September. For a minute, though, think about May and June. He missed the cut at the The Players, The Memorial and the U.S. Open. He finally clicked when he found his swing and reportedly “stopped thinking about it.” Are we seeing shades of May 2012 Rory? Perhaps. A reboot of his mental state will undoubtedly reboot his swing and most certainly lead to the McIlroy that holds trophies on Sundays.

Obviously, something was bothering him mentally and physically when he withdrew on Friday. He certainly could have handled it better, but a deeper look into his recent activity reveals some of the burnout associated with being a high-paid, high-pressure athlete at the top of the game. It’s easy to judge him harshly and not to sympathize, and many analysts have. Me? I’m not jumping on that train, nor am I counting him (or his clubs) out just yet.

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  1. Bill

    Mar 29, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    Everyone has their take on Rory. He allowed himself to be overwhelmed. His handlers and Nike get to share some of the responsibility. He’s distracted and still needs some guidance off the course. Part of the problem is that he met a girl he really likes and never has to work another day in his life and can live like royalty.
    Getting used to a club change can make some difference also but I think he’s wiped out and wanting to relax a bit. Most of us in our 20’s wouldn’t have been much different. There’s been a few guys on tour who have won and ended up partying in Vegas and we haven’t seen them atop a leaderboard since.
    There’s no comparison to Tiger. Tiger was driven and had a father that helped keep his focus and on the path..It took him years and REALLY screwing up to lose HIS focus. He’s gotten it back it appears. I hope Rory does also. Nice kid. Great talent. But with that swing, he needs to be a machine on the range. Time will tell

  2. HJD

    Mar 4, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    I gotta say that I’m disappointed in Rory. Quitting and then trying to sell us with the lame excuse of his wisdom tooth….c’mon. At 23 we’ve all made mistakes but it’s not like he didn’t know what was going to result from his abrupt exit.. He’s been playing golf for how long? He had to know how that would be perceived. Now add the big contract, the celebrity GF, all the perks of fame n fortune…he’s gotta know he’s gonna catch major scrutiny from quitting. Rory, just stay humble, learn from this, know your every move is under a microscope, and adjust your actions accordingly.

  3. Andy

    Mar 4, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    Quitting is quitting whether it a PGA Tour event or an 8 year playing junior golf. It’s simply unacceptable. I was a huge Rory fan up until Friday and I simply can back a person who, like it or not, is a role model to my two sons. When they see Rory quit during a bad round, they won’t be far to follow suit. Sorry Rory, but actions have consequences and hopefully I am not one father trying to teach this my children.

  4. dan

    Mar 3, 2013 at 2:34 am

    Yeah, have to call bs here in a big way. If the athlete in question was a certain Mr woods, the media would be telling him to take a seat next to nick faldo in the commentary box. Rory wants the cash and the notoriety, he should learn to wear the heat that comes with it. Maybe the pressure that came with the money from nike is the issue and not the clubs.

  5. Gary McCormick

    Mar 2, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    It’s not about celebrity, or the pressure that comes with it — it’s about sticking with the thing that has brought you fame and wealth. Rory has been jetsetting around with his new tennis-star girlfriend and ignoring his game, and both have fallen from the pinnacle of their respective sports.

    The switch to Nike came at a bad time – because of the current lack of attention to his game, he is in a worse-than-usual position to be changing equipment.

    The kid needs to keep his head in the game, work on getting used to the new gear — and give the jetsetting around with the Wozniacki chick a rest…

  6. Gus

    Mar 2, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    Simple – if rory wants to be given a break, then stick with Titleist and turn down Nike and might even have gained some respect. Once you accept the big sponsorships the scrutiny comes with the territory.

    He wasn’t forced to switch to Nike – his old sponsors would have loves to keep him.

    His lack of practice and preparation is due to his own fault. Why dshould he be given a break?

    I’m a senior manager at my company, if I or my team makes a mistake you think my clients going to cut me some slack?

    Rory might be a nice kid but he is I’ll advised and poorly managed, letting

    • Paul

      Mar 2, 2013 at 6:20 pm

      If you have to be perfect for your clients then you don’t have much of a relationship with them. No person, company or sport’s figure is perfect. It’s easy to judge from the peanut gallery.

  7. Captain Obvious

    Mar 2, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Did anyone give Tiger a break?

    • Per

      Mar 2, 2013 at 6:02 pm

      I think mr Woods took quite a long break when Elingate was revealed! Blaiming injuries in almoust every piece of his body!

  8. Dpavs

    Mar 2, 2013 at 8:28 am

    Sorry but I cannot agree. If you are that mentally screwed up… plain and simple don’t enter or withdraw before play starts. Once you start ou have to tough it out. Most of us should be so lucky to be able to experience how mentally tough it is to have a freaking silver spoon in our mouths and have to suffer the pressure or fame and fortune. If you are looking for folks who deserver a break.. there are plenty of places more deserving to look, perhaps if Rory did so it would fix his perspective on life and golf.

  9. Imperfect

    Mar 2, 2013 at 7:17 am

    So he was having a bad day at work and decided to play hooky, so what. Everyone gets a mulligan now and then, even a kid who got lots of money. I suppose the perfect people who post here can’t understand that. Get well Rory, can’t wait ’til your back in top form.
    I made wayyyy bigger mistakes when I was 23 and was condemned by certain heartless superior beings. All of them have eaten crow.

    • dan

      Mar 3, 2013 at 5:41 am

      Dude are you serious? The difference between you and I playing hookey and mcilroy is one, he’s on 20 mill a year not to and two, as a marquee signing to the Nike name he represents the brand. That is a lot of pressure but if you can’t hack it, don’t make the deal. All the talent in the world can’t help if your ticker isn’t in it and if he’s walking off mid round he’s not in the right place mentally. And if that’s the case, perhaps the pressure (sponsors and self imposed) is too much.

  10. Troy Vayanos

    Mar 2, 2013 at 3:48 am

    I’m not jumping on the Rory haters just yet either Ryan. However, as the world number one there is a certain level of responsibility and expectation that comes with the job.

    If his wisdom teeth weren’t right before the event he shouldn’t have played and risked walking off half way through. I guess he felt obligated but in hindsight was probably the wrong decision.

    I would have have liked to see Rory tough out the round, sign his scorecard and see how he felt in the next day.

  11. Trevor

    Mar 2, 2013 at 1:12 am

    A break? Are you kidding? This is supposed to be a professional. A world ranked #1. A well endorsed player. He had his break at the Dubai and another the Accenture match play. There is no excuse for this one. A wisdom tooth? lol come on now.

  12. Matt M

    Mar 1, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    G’s comments are what is wrong with the world we live in. A discussion on taking the cash over what works is a topic that can be fairly discussed. But, attacking a young 20 something is wrong. Rory walking off was the wrong thing to do but man I’m glad I’m not judged by the choices I made when I was his age. I don’t think it’s fair to attack him just because he is successful. The world we live in would be a far better place if we looked on others the way we would like to be looked at. We all make mistakes we should all remember that. I do think the pressure of the moment is getting to Rory. He’ll be back he just needs to grow up some.

  13. Randall

    Mar 1, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    Nice fluff piece. Follow him on Twitter. He isn’t stressed, he is enjoying his life. Trips with gf, famous friends. He is playing badly, will it last, hopefully not, but withdrawing bc a bad round is laughable. If he doesn’t want/deserve extra criticism, give back the tens of millions of dollars he accepted.

  14. J

    Mar 1, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    Blah. You don’t make the decision to pursue that life and lifestyle without the understanding of what it comes with. It doesn’t mean it’s ok for people to admonish or dig into his life…it’s not ok,..mind your own business…however, as I said…he chose it. Just like every famous athlete, movie star, politician… You wanted it…you got it. Deal with it or disappear, take your pick. Toothache? Good one. I’m going to call in “fired” with a toothache tomorrow… Seeya on the course!

  15. Michael

    Mar 1, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    the guy gets over 20 million a year!!!! he gets NO breaks.

  16. Lloyd

    Mar 1, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    Rory still very young and never been in this situation before trying to please every one including the stupid press and other people who will never understand the true meaning of pressure. His clubs are fine they been made to his spec same grips and shafts as he had in the titleist gear and the same weight added to his putter. Every golfer struggles Rory just needs to sort his head out and get back on planet earth

  17. Chris

    Mar 1, 2013 at 7:36 pm

    We look forward to and expect more from our World #1.

    What more can be said?

  18. Kyle

    Mar 1, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    You should know better than to argue something like this. Don’t you know that once a person (a) make a certain amount of money, (b) become a public figure, or (c) date a public figure, he ceases to be a human being worthy of anyone’s consideration, kindness, decency, or respect?

    As G said, he IS a celebrity. A public figure. A supposed role-model. With trophies. And millions. And a super-star tennis girlfriend. Indeed, not only is he “open for scrutiny”, it is imperative that we as a society give him nothing but scrutiny. It’s only fair, after all.

    Oh well, there’s a positive here. People like G and others give me the opportunity for teaching moments with my son…about the kind of person he doesn’t want to be.

    • G

      Mar 1, 2013 at 9:09 pm

      Even the professional pundits are all over it, so why shouldn’t I be? I’m a nobody. Making minimum wage. I’m just as curious as anybody out there.

  19. G

    Mar 1, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    Wha? Ffffffff. No way. We don’t have to give him a break. He IS a celebrity. A public figure. A supposed role-model. With trophies. And millions. And a super-star tennis girlfriend. Open for scrutiny.

    This is the modern world. A Twitter world. We can all have our say.

    • Paul

      Mar 2, 2013 at 6:21 pm

      We can also be green with envy.

    • Colin Gillbanks

      Mar 5, 2013 at 9:59 am


      You forgot to include ‘human being’ in your list.

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Opinion & Analysis

The difference between “ugly” and “unorthodox” golf swings



I’d like you pretend for a moment that you were asked to name the five ugliest golf swings by players who had won a major championship. Who would you select, and what criteria would you use to make that judgment? You might say you’re not sure, but you would have no difficulty identifying an ugly swing if you were to see one, right? The question is, what factors would move you toward that decision?

I struggled with this exact question when it was posed to me and others who were members of Golf Magazine’s “Top 100” panel at the time. In making my decision, I was concerned that I did not confuse UNORTHODOX with UGLY. The fact is that some of the greatest golfers throughout history have been considered to have had unorthodox swings.

  • The word “unorthodox” is defined as that which is contrary to what is usual, traditional or generally accepted.
  • The word “ugly” is defined as that which is unpleasant or repulsive in appearance.

In comparing the two definitions, they are clearly quite different. The word “unorthodox” suggests something that is different from the norm, while the word “ugly” relates to the appearance of an object regardless of its status. The problem with labeling any golf swing as unorthodox is that the definition of that condition varies with time. What was once considered to be unorthodox may later be considered perfectly acceptable, and we’ve seen this happen over and over again in golf instruction.

Case No. 1

It was considered unorthodox when Harry Vardon moved his thumbs toward the top of the shaft and placed the little finger of his right hand over his left forefinger knuckle. The standard grip in his era featured both thumbs to the sides of the shaft. The club was held more in the palms of both hands and with all ten fingers, rather than more diagonally through the palm as in Vardon’s Grip. As Vardon began to win, however, his competitors copied his grip. What once was considered unorthodox became orthodox.

Case No. 2

Hogan and Nicklaus were paired together in the final round of the 1957 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills. The dichotomy between their backswings couldn’t have been more evident. This was due to the way in which they utilized their right elbows in the backswing. Nicklaus allowed his right elbow to work up and away, pointing more outward at the top. Hogan’s right elbow was closer to his body and pointed more downward.

At the time, Hogan’s backswing was considered orthodox while Nicklaus’ swing was considered unorthodox. As Hogan faded from the winner’s circle and Nicklaus began to emerge, what was once thought to be unorthodox later came to be considered orthodox.

There are some swings that most observers would agree are both unorthodox and ugly. For example, most observers would say that Jim Furyk’s swing is not pretty — they might even go so far as to categorize it as ugly. This is despite the face that Furyk has had an outstanding career and has a U.S. Open victory to his credit. What is it that observers find so offense in his swing? The answer is the differential in planes between the backswing and the downswing, or what might be referred to as a “loop” in his swing.

In Furyk’s case, the club is taken well outside what might be considered the traditional backswing plane. Then it is looped well to the inside and back into position on the downswing. This is is a perfectly acceptable way to play golf, which is evidenced by the size of his bank account and the number of trophies on his mantle. As you might surmise, because of his golf swing, Furyk has not been asked to write any full-swing instruction books.

The problem is that, in the eyes of the observer, the combination of the two distinctly different planes gives a disjoined appearance to the swing. Does it follow then that the variance in the backswing and downswing is the primary factor in determining if a swing qualifies as being ugly? The problem with reaching that conclusion is that it doesn’t hold up to comparison with other players who employ a similar pattern… beginning with Freddy Couples. He begins his swing by lifting his arms well outside the traditional plane line. With a delayed turn of his torso, he then brings the club back into a more traditional plane at the top.

In the case of both Couples and Furyk, their backswings operate well outside the traditional plane line with both players “looping” the club back into position prior to impact. And yet Couples’ swing is universally admired, while Furyk’s swing is in some quarters ridiculed. This begs the question of why Couples’ “looping” swing motion is considered more acceptable than Furyk’s. The answer to that question is two-fold.

  1. Furyk’s loop is created ostensibly by a change in plane with the arms and the hands, giving the swing a frenetic appearance.
  2. Couples’ loop is created with a graceful turn of his body with the arms following in perfect harmony.

And so, when taking the swings of Couples and other “loopers” into consideration, it would seem that the dramatic change in plane between the backswing and the downswing in and of itself does not warrant the classification of ugly.

Author Footnote: A point worth considering as part of this discussion is that there have been other accomplished players throughout the history of the game whose backswings have operated on the same principles as Couples. This would include perennial Champion’s Tour winners Kenny Perry, and earlier Jay Haas, whose swings were generally admired despite their unorthodox approach to the backswing.

What does this all mean? First, while a loop in the golf swing may be unorthodox, is not necessary considered ugly provided that the club is routed into plane with the turn of the body rather than just the arms and the hands. Second, as stated earlier, the definition of unorthodox can and does change depending on the era. And third, an unorthodox swing is not necessarily ugly. The two classifications are very different.

As you evaluate golf swings, remember this adage; an unorthodox swing is not necessarily ugly, but an ugly swing is always unorthodox.

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TG2: Should Tiger Woods play in The Masters without a driver?



Tiger Woods’ No. 1 concern heading into the Masters is the driver, according to Notah Begay. Equipment expert Brian Knudson and Editor Andrew Tursky argue whether Tiger should even use a driver during the Masters. Also, they discuss Rory’s new prototype putter and how it was made, and they talk about a new shaft company called “LA Golf Shafts.”

Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

For more info on the topics, check out the links below.

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Opinion & Analysis

Book Review: The Life and Times of Donald Ross



The Life and Times of Donald Ross is a successful golf history, in that it holds one’s attention, regardless of one’s level of enthusiasm or interest for the subject. It can hardly avoid doing so, as it traces the life of a man who lived through both world wars, emigrated from the old country to the new, and championed a sport that grew from infancy to maturity in the USA, during his earthly run. The loss of two wives to uncontrollable circumstances, the raising of a child essentially on his own, and the commitment to the growth of golf as an industry add to the complexity of the life of Donald J. Ross Jr. Within the cover of this tome, through words and images, the life and times of the man are communicated in fine fashion.

The book was published in 2016, by Chris Buie of Southern Pines, North Carolina. Buie is not a professional writer in the traditional sense. He does not solicit contracts for books, but instead, writes from a place of passion and enthusiasm. This is not to say that he is not a writer of professional quality. Instead, it isolates him among those who turn out high-level prose, scholarly research, with attention-holding results.

Before I opened the book, it was the cover that held my attention for much longer than a single, fleeting moment. The solitary figure, staring out across the ocean. Was he gazing toward the Americas, or toward his birthplace, in Scotland? And that blend of blue shades, like something out of Picasso’s 1901-1904 period of monochromatic azures, proved to be equal parts calming and evocative. Those years, by the way, correlate with the 29th to the 32nd years of Ross’ life. During that period, Ross lost a brother (John) to injuries suffered in the Boer War, and married his first wife, Janet. With care like that for the cover art, what marvelous research awaited within the binding?

After a number of readings, I’m uncertain as to the greater value of the words or the pictures. Perhaps it’s the codependency of one on the other that leads to the success of the effort. The book is the culmination of 5 months of exhaustive research, followed by 7 months of intense writing, on Buie’s part. The author made up his mind to match as many images as possible with his descriptors, so as to create both visual and lexical collections to stand time’s test. Maps, paintings, photos, newspaper clippings, postcards, etchings and course routes were collected and reproduced within the covers. Throughout the process, so much of Ross’s life and craft, previously unrecognized in publication, were revealed to Buie. Ross’s ability to make the unnatural look natural when necessary, is hardly equaled in the annals of golf course architecture. According to Buie,

Growing up all I’d heard was natural. Certainly he incorporated as much of the existing terrain and environment as possible. But given how much other work went into the courses, it would be more accurate to say his courses were naturalistic.

Buie also scrapes away at the misplaced notion that Ross was a one-dimensional golf course architect. After all, what else did Shakespeare do besides write plays and sonnets? Well, Ross did so much more, in addition to building some of the world’s great member and tournament golf courses, shaping the Pinehurst Resort experience, and running an in-town hotel in the process. Again, Buie comments,

His greatest contribution was the role he played in the overall establishment of the game in the United States. He was involved in every aspect (caddymaster, greenkeeper, teacher, player, mentor, tournaments, clubmaking, management, etc). The theme that went through his efforts was that he was adamant all be done “the right way”. Given the breadth and enduring nature of his efforts I don’t think anyone else did more to establish the game in America. That makes him the “Grand Old Man of the American Game” – not just a prolific architect.

What was it about Ross, that separated him from the many compatriots who journeyed from Scotland to the USA? They were content to compete and run golf clubs, but Ross sought so much more. His early years involved much successful competition, including top-10 finishes in the US Open. He was also a competent instructor, manifested in the ability of his students to learn both the swing and its competitive execution. And yet, Pinehurst is so different from any other place in the Americas. And so much of what it is, is due to the influence of Donald Ross.

In a nod to the accepted round of golf across the planet, the book contains 18 chapters, including the appendices. At locomotive pace, the mode of transportation utilized by Ross to traverse the lower 48 of the USA and Canada, the reader gathers a proper awareness of the great man’s living arc. Beginning with the hike from the train station in Boston to the Oakley Country Club, the emigration of the Scotsman from the highlands of Caledonia to the next hemisphere was a fairly simple affair, with unexpected, poignant, and far-reaching consequences. Donald J. Ross, jr., would complete the shaping of american golf that was assisted (but never controlled) by architectural peers. Men like Walter Travis, Albert Tillinghast, Charles Blair Macdonald, Alister MacKenzie and Tom Bendelow would build courses of eternal worth, but none would shape in the far-reaching manner of Ross.

It’s tempting to make a larger portion of this story about Buie, but he wouldn’t have it so. A Pinehurst native, Buie’s blend of reverence and understanding of his home region are evident and undeniable. One almost thinks that a similar history might have been written about any number of characters charged with the stewardship of the Sandhills region of North Carolina. Fortunately for aficionados of golf and its course architecture, Buie is a golfer, and so we have this tome.

Donald J. Ross, jr. was a man of principle, a man of faith, a man of belief. When those beliefs came into conflict with each other, which they seldom did, he had an instinct for elevating one over the other. No other place is this more evident that in his routing of the Sagamore course in Lake George, in the Adirondack mountains of New York state. Faced with the conundrum of how to begin the course, his daughter remembers the sage words of the father. Despite contradicting his belief that a course should never begin in the direction of the rising sun, Ross commented I can’t start it anywhere but looking out at that lake and those mountains. Indeed, Sagamore would be a poorer place for an alternate opening, and this review would have less of a way to reach its end.

My recommendation: read the book.

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19th Hole