Rory McIlroy calls in Butch Harmon to fix two-swing conundrum before Masters


Butch Harmon and Rory McIlroy at the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol

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

Rory McIlroy has brought in revered coach Butch Harmon as he tries to fix his ‘two-swing’ conundrum in time for next week’s Masters.

The world No 2 is playing in San Antonio at the Valero Texas Open as a preparation event for his 10th attempt at becoming the sixth player in history to complete the career grand slam. Since a rousing season’s start in Dubai in January – where he finished second and first – McIlroy has performed indifferently on the PGA Tour, recording just one top-20 finish in five tournaments.

The 34-year-old has made no secret of the fact that he has been struggling with his game, primarily with his approach play. He has put in the work over the past fortnight and last week was seen at Michael Jordan’s ultra-exclusive Grove XXIII near his home in South Florida.

McIlroy went through some exhaustive sessions on the range with Michael Bannon, his fellow Ulsterman who has overseen the famously rhythmic motion since the four-time major winner was eight years old. It has emerged – firstly through United States website GolfWRX – that he also enlisted the renowned advice of Harmon.

The 80-year-old guided Tiger Woods to his first eight major wins, 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 Las Vegas base.

England’s Tommy Fleetwood is now a client and on Wednesday McIlroy’s management confirmed to Telegraph Sport that he, too, had tapped into all that experience, making the 2,000-mile trip to Harmon’s academy two weeks ago.

It is not the first time he has 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 love about Butch is he’s worked with so many players,” McIlroy said. “So, if you’re trying to explain to him, ‘Look, I’m trying to do this or I’m trying to create that feeling’, the database of players that he’s worked with over the years, he could say, ‘Well, Freddie Couples felt this, or Tiger did this, or DJ felt that’. It’s always nice to have that reference.”

McIlroy has confessed to being in a quandary regarding his “feelings” with his clubs and it comes down to what certain experts insist is the age-old paradox of his swing.

Without doubt, he is one of golf’s great drivers, but from 150 yards in, the failings have recently been all too apparent. He leads the ‘Total Driving’ statistics on the PGA Tour this campaign, but on the ‘Strokes Gained – Approach Play’ charts he is 119th.


Back swing

McIlroy has a ‘front-axis’ swing with a wood where his weight stays on the front foot compared to his ‘back-axis’ iron swing with the weight on the back foot which leads to a steeper take away. 


The most important stat at Augusta is ‘Proximity to Hole’, so McIlroy’s urgency is understandable and he addressed his game’s disconnect at his last event – The Players – the week before his Harmon pilgrimage.

“I have this amazing feeling with my woods at the minute, but when I try to recreate that feeling with the irons, it starts left and goes further left,” he said on his way to a tie for 19th at the PGA Tour flagship tournament. “I think it’s because you turn harder with a wood, you’re sort of clearing [your body] harder.

“I love this feeling of firing my right arm down the target line, and I can do that with my woods really well. But then when I try to do that with my irons, the club face closes over and goes left. It’s almost like two different swings. I have a swing thought for my woods and I need a different swing thought for my irons, and that’s what I’ve been working on.”


Impact

The wood is more ahead of McIlroy at impact compared to behind him with an iron which is shown by the difference in space between his arm and thigh with each club.


His gremlins at Augusta are the stuff of folklore and many doubt if he will ever clear 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 with his woods, McIlroy has what is known as a ‘back-axis swing’ – which in basic terms means the majority of his mass stays over his right leg on impact – while with his irons it is a “front-axis swing”, with his weight over his left leg. This is problematic because, as McIlroy has pointed out, elite golfers like to play shot and not swing in competition.


Follow through

McIlroy finishes with the traditional looped follow through with the wood round the back of the head which is different to his high and short finish with an iron.


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

However, Pete Cowen does not agree with the two-swing assessment. The Yorkshireman, who rivals Harmon for the moniker of “world’s best coach”, worked with McIlroy in 2022 when he briefly left Bannon and inevitably gained insight on the weakness that, surely more than any other, has held him back from winning a fifth major and a first in a decade.

“It’s not a two-swing thing, it’s a speed thing,” Cowen told Telegraph Sport on Wednesday. “Rory is able to square the clubface and hit it out of the middle at 125 to 130mph. But he struggles at lower speeds. So with wedges he struggles with ball flight. If that’s what people think is a two-swing problem.”

What is not in question is that McIlroy needs a quick remedy if he is to challenge among Augusta’s cathedral pines next week and it will be fascinating over the next few days at TPC San Antonio to see if the Harmon effect has taken hold. “I’m under no illusion that the clock is ticking,” McIlroy said.

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