Rory McIlroy is used to defying expectations. In a golfing world where it’s assumed that you need to be a 6ft+ powerhouse to consistently hit the ball long, he bossed the Canadian Open with an average driving distance of 316.9 yards.
So, what’s his secret? How does he reach the distances he does without undergoing the fashionable body transformation to add slabs of new muscle? We caught up with him to find out…
Having spent over 100 weeks at number one in the world golf rankings over the course of his career, Rory McIlroy is one of the instantly recognisable faces in the sport.
Since turning pro in September 2007 at the age of 18, the 5ft7in 33-year-old has amassed 21 PGA and 14 European Tour victories.
With his most recent success at the Canadian Open, he shot a final round 62 and with an average driving distance of 316.9yds and 51.92% average, against three of the best players in the world.
After Covid, I needed a complete reset and I re-dedicated myself to the game
“Going down the stretch against Tony [Finau] and JT [Justin Thomas] and the worst score in the group was about -6 – this is a day that I will remember for a long, long time,” McIlroy says.
“I think after Covid I needed a complete reset and I re-dedicated myself to the game a little bit and also realized what made me happy – this. I’ve just got to put the work in, and I’ve got a great team around me who are behind me 100%.”
One area of his game that he’s definitely worked on is his driving distance, but he has gone a different route than players such as Bryson DeChambeau.
Match Your Upper And Lower Body
McIlroy says: “People ask me how I am able to drive such distances with my frame, but as you can see, I’ve been able to put into practice matching up my upper body with the lower half,” he says.
The importance of core strength and core stability for golfers is only just being properly understood, and McIlroy has been at the forefront of training his body as a single, functional unit, to increase the amount of force he can produce through the ground.
“Young golfers going through adolescence don’t typically have the ability to utilize a strong upper body because those areas haven’t developed yet. Therefore, they’re only able to use the strongest part – their legs.
“What you need to do is – from the top of your swing – use the ground and get to the point where there is a separation, and your upper body is able to come through when you strike the ball,” he says.
“There are so many players at all levels of golf who have different swings, but it’s more about what works for them,” he continues. “When your legs are too fast, and your upper half is trying to catch up, that’s fine if the turn in your swing is good.
“You can work on your body rotation to compensate for quick lower body over slower upper body. But unless you are able to either watch yourself on video or work with a coach, you may not be able to work out why you’re not hitting it properly.
“I have watched a lot of footage of myself as a young player – before I turned pro – and I see that the club isn’t in the right place before impact. However, my rotation was good, so I matched things up to connect the ball correctly.”
I’ve been trying to get more speed and ‘hang time’ to help me at certain courses, which means that I’ve been increasing the speed of my backswing
Use A Wide Stance
Balance is also an important factor when setting a stance for shots, especially off the tee. McIlroy explains how he sets himself up to make sure he gets maximum speed and impact through his swing:
“I will make sure that I have a wide stance, and that my shoulders and spine are tilted a little away from the target. This enables and encourages me to give the ball as much air and upward trajectory as possible.
“You’re going to optimize your distance by hitting the ball with a good angle of vertical degree; and also by doing that, it gives you a low amount of spin.”
Get Into Position
“Another thing for me is that I like a nice high tee position. I have a bit of a low position in my swing before the ball impact, so a longer tee helps me in that respect. Of course, I won’t hit it perfectly every time and the driver may make contact with the ground before it does the ball!”
Most players who go on to make the professional ranks will show their promise and raw talent at an early age. So, the technique that they learn in their formative years will shape their regular swing.
Speeding Up The Backswing
McIlroy is no different and he explains that his swing was very much formed early on, and is still based around that blueprint. “I’ve always needed to do different things to get the most out of my ability, being a smaller player than a lot of other golfers. I did so as a kid, and got the club behind me, almost as I was lifting myself up into the swing at impact.
“I’ve also been trying to get more speed and ‘hang time’ to help me at certain courses – Augusta, mainly – which allows you to take hazards out of the equation. That means that I’ve been increasing the speed of my backswing.
“If you do that, it has to come back the other way – towards the ball – quicker. That may be against the normal teaching of the golf swing, but if you practice something enough, it will improve.”
WHAT NEXT? Want more strength insights into golf’s heavy hitters? Then read the exclusive RSNG interview with Brooks Koepka.
Photos: Shutterstock, WHOOP