Rory McIlroy's swing is one of the most impressive the PGA Tour has ever seen, and to emulate his motion perfectly you'd need an incredible amount of flexibility, athleticism, and balance.
However, as unlikely as it seems, there are a number of things Rory does that you can use to improve your own technique. If you crave more power and distance, copy the way he stores energy and "cracks the whip" as he delivers the clubhead through the impact zone. If you're in need of better balance, then swinging in the proper sequence like he does will make a positive difference almost immediately. And if you're a slicer, mimicking Rory's closed shoulders/open hips position in the downswing, as well as his full release, will work wonders.
Take a close look at McIlroy's various positions and techniques with an eye toward improving your weaknesses, and be sure to try the drills I've provided. With just a little bit of work, you can get your game an inch closer to that of the best player in the world.
1. GET RELAXED AT ADDRESS AND STRENGTHEN GRIP
Rory's setup position has several noteworthy characteristics, but the number-one thing to copy is his relaxed and tension-free stance. Tightening your arms, shoulders and hands at address makes it very difficult to swing in sequence and generate maximum clubhead speed. Feel relaxed — not tight — before and during your swing. The second thing to take from Rory's address is his relatively strong left-hand grip position. Check the photo below — the logo on his glove is clearly visible, meaning his left hand is rotated clockwise on the handle. This is critical for players like Rory who prefer to draw the ball from right to left with the driver. It's also a good technique for those who struggle with slicing. If this is you, I suggest erring on the side of too strong with your left hand, rather than too weak.
2. DON'T FEAR THE CUP
Although modern teaching standards call for a flat left wrist at the top, Rory actually cups his wrist a bit, which allows him to maintain a square clubface despite his strong left-hand grip. He also exhibits a full wrist hinge, evidenced by the fact that the shaft is near parallel to the ground (photo, above). This is impossible to do if you tense up at address. The secret is to make as full an upper body turn as possible while keeping your arms, wrists and hands loose and free to hinge the club up. Moreover, allowing your left wrist to cup instead of forcing it perfectly flat makes it easier to keep your left arm relaxed and to hinge your wrists to their maximum capacity. A flat left wrist sounds nice, but it can potentially lead to undue tension in your lead arm.
3. CRACK THE WHIP
Did you know that the first man-made object to break the sound barrier was a bullwhip? Yes, that sound you hear when a whip is cracked is caused by the incredible speed of the whip's end as it unleashes all of its built-up energy. This phenomenon is very similar to the way an extremely powerful player like McIlroy unleashes the power of his swing into the ball. If you've noticed, Rory isn't a huge guy, but he winds up his body on the way back and then swings in sequence on the way down with his hips rotating at full blast, and then — just like the handle of a bullwhip — stopping for a split second just before impact. This move unloads all of the power he has built up in his arms and hands to the clubhead and, ultimately, the ball.
HOW TO CRACK IT: Throw the Ball Drill
To ingrain the feeling of cracking the whip like Rory, put your club down and hold a ball in the fingers of your right hand. Set up just as you would to hit a shot (with a ball on the ground in front of you), take your right hand to the top as you would in your normal swing, but instead of hitting the ball with a club, simply try to throw the ball in your hand directly at the ball on the ground. After a few tries, you'll notice that you have to hold the ball loosely in order to hit the ball on the ground without releasing it too soon. Repeat this move until you can do it consistently, then pick up a club and feel like you're throwing the clubhead at the ball with the same feel as in the drill.
4. MAINTAIN BALANCE FROM START TO FINISH
One of Rory's hallmarks is an incredibly balanced swing and finish position. Unlike a lot of amateurs, you never see him fall over or to the side after he hits a shot, even when it's a 350-yard smash to a tight fairway. The reason he can do this, in addition to his incredible flexibility and athleticism, is that he swings in the proper sequence and uses his body to properly support his dynamic movement. If you try to create power by swinging the club from the top with nothing but your arms, or thrust excessively with your legs with the club trailing too far behind, you'll always be off balance, and your delivery of power will be inefficient and weak. You've probably heard the phrase, "swing within yourself," and this is what I'm referring to. Rory may swing incredibly fast, but his near-perfect balance shows that he's swinging comfortably within his capabilities and from the "ground up" (check the photos above for proof). Regardless of how far you hit it now, if you improve your balance (drill, below) you'll swing with much more power and control.
HOW TO GET BALANCED: Feet-Together Drill
Grab your driver, tee up a ball and assume your normal address position, but with your feet together. Try to hit some easy drives, swinging only as fast as you can while maintaining your balance. If you practice this drill enough, you should hit drives that are almost as long as your normal shots because your efficiency, balance and sequence will be so much better. Once you master this, apply the same balance and transfer of energy to your regular motion.
5. SWING THE CLUBHEAD (NOT THE HANDLE)
Another thing that Rory does incredibly well that most amateurs don't is control the clubhead. When he swings, you can clearly see how much awareness he has of the clubhead and the clubface, and because of this, he's able to sling both of them past his body with natural speed and power. This is impossible to do if you grip the club so tightly that you can't feel the clubhead when you swing. In the photo at right, you can see how he has completely let the clubhead go — there's absolutely no steering or holding on. That's a mistake that most amateurs make. Try the drill at right to improve your release and accuracy with every club.
6. KEEP YOUR SHOULDERS CLOSED
Another signature Rory move is the way he keeps his shoulders closed for so long on his downswing. Although he starts rapidly turning his hips counterclockwise as soon as he reaches the top, he keeps his shoulders pointing right of the target until he just about reaches impact. This is his key for getting the club swinging on the perfect plane and the clubhead moving on the desired inside path to the ball. Important: The shoulders control the path of the club to impact while the hips control the path of the club past impact. If you want to hit the ball longer, straighter and with a slight draw, mimic Rory's open hips and closed shoulders as you swing down and through the hitting zone. If you move your shoulders too early, you'll hit the ball on an outside path.
HOW TO IMPROVE CONTROL: Hit a few "hinge" shots
This drill might seem similar to the previous exercise, but if done correctly it will accomplish a different task. To do it, set up with a mid-iron with your feet close together and hit shots by simply cocking your wrists in the backswing and then delivering the clubhead to the ball from that position. The handle shouldn't go higher than your waist in the backswing or finish. To really learn the correct moves, stick a tee in the hole at the top of the grip and make sure it points at the ball at the end of your backswing and where the ball used to be in your finish. You should quickly begin to develop an increased sensitivity to what the clubface is doing and how to make sure it's square at impact. You'll also begin to realize that you have to let the toe of the club turn over in order to hit the ball solidly and straight.
7. PUTT NATURALLY
An interesting development in Rory's game is how much his putting has improved following his breakdown at the 2011 Masters. Since then, Rory has worked hard to stroke putts in competition with the same level of commitment and purpose he applies to his full-swing shots. He's now much more committed to holing putts rather than to simply trying to make a stroke. The work has paid off: McIlroy led all players in 2012 in Birdie or Better Conversion Percentage at 34.7%. If you tend to focus too much on mechanics when you putt, like Rory used to, forget them for the time being and focus on seeing the line and the speed you need to roll the ball to get it into the hole.
(Related Article: McIlroy named Golf Magazine’s Player of the Year)
(Related Photos: Best moments from Rory’s historic season)