When Rory McIlroy tees up at Augusta National this week, it will be with another chance to capture the only Major title that still evades him.
But with a recent change in coaching set-up, McIlroy insists his focus is less centered on completing the grand-slam at The Masters and more on the longer-term goals he has with his game.
“I'm trying to view what I'm doing with my golf game on a -- I'm trying to see the big picture here,” said McIlroy.
“I'm not all focused on -- I'm obviously focused on this week, but it's bigger than that. It's a journey, right, and it's a journey to try to get back to playing the game the way I know that I can play the game.
“So obviously this week is very important, but I'm still looking beyond that. I'm just at the start of a journey here that I know will get me back to where I want to be.”
That recent journey has included the addition of Pete Cowen to his coaching staff. McIlroy announced the addition after he missed the cut at The Players Championship, with an admission that he’d been struggling after speed training in the Autumn had caused his swing to get ‘flat, long, and too rotational.’
McIlroy has not parted ways with childhood coach Michael Bannon, but he says teaming up with Pete felt like a comfortable decision as he looked to fix issues with his swing.
“I thought with Pete, I think it was sort of it felt comfortable because I've known him for so long.” He said.
“I just thought with what I have been sort of struggling with or trying to find a grasp with my swing, Pete likes to get his students to do what I was trying to feel I was doing, and he's worked with a bunch of different players, and he's got a lot of knowledge and a lot of wisdom. Michael is still a part of the team. You know, it's just an extra set of eyes to seeing a few things; that I just felt bringing Pete in can only help.
“It just felt like a comfortable fit for me. That's the reason I brought him in. It's basically just about trying to understand the body movements a little bit more and sort of understanding why certain shots happen and how to fix those on the fly and how to, even during rounds, okay, if you have a better understanding of what you're doing, then you can start to manage it better, even if things don't feel quite the way you want them to. So that's the simple version of why we started working together.”
As for what they’ve been working on, McIlroy said it’s been about moving away from being overly technical or looking too much at the past, and instead getting back to basics.
“There's been a lot of, oh, well, back in 2014 I did this or look at this. You know, that's a long time ago now and you can't change the past. You can't -- it's not as if you can just magically delve back into it and bring it all back to life. Pete and I had a conversation about that. This is me and this is what you have to work with and we go from here.
“I think if I were to explain it in depth, it's actually very simple. I'm actually getting away from a lot of technical thoughts. I'm actually going the other way. I've sort of simplified it down to just making the right body movements and instead of trying to get myself to get the club into certain positions. So if anything, I feel like I've simplified the whole process. When you don't understand why you're hitting certain shots, you can become lost and you can start to think of all sorts of stuff.
“And I felt like every time I was going to the range, I was trying something different. Where now I feel like I'm on a path that's a little more structured and I have a better understanding of why I'm doing things and why certain shots do what they do and why certain movements produce a golf shot. You know, so I think that's been a big thing.”
The idea of going back to basics has also filtered down to his short-game, and McIlroy admitted that it’s the one area of his game he is working hard at.
“I've always thought the thing that makes me a great driver of the golf ball is also the thing that sometimes makes me not be as good with the wedges. It's a different action and it's a different sequence of movements.
“But I'm working on it. I work on it hard. It might be a part of the game that doesn't come as easily to me or players like me. But it's not from a lack of trying or a lack of practice or a lack of work at it.
“I feel like I'm on the right direction. I've made some pretty good strides over the last few weeks, and, you know -- but as I said, it's only a start. I've made a start at it, and I'm excited about it and I'm enthusiastic about being on this journey. And yeah, I'm not saying I'm going to be a Zach Johnson and I'm going to wedge it like him for the rest of my career, but if I can get a little bit closer to being like Zach, then I'll be very happy.
“If you get the movements and body actions right with chipping and pitching, then you have it with the full game, anyway. So it's about going back to basics and making half-swings and making sure that you can sync those up, and if you can sync those up, then it's easy to just lengthen your swing a little bit and go from there.”
As a result, McIlroy is approaching this week at Augusta National with a slightly different routine and a feeling of tempered expectation than in more recent years.
“I didn't come up here to play any practice rounds last week. I just flew in Sunday. Had a good practice session here. It was pretty windy down in Florida the last week or so, so it was nice to get up here and practice in some benign conditions and work on some things. Played 18 yesterday, nine today. I'll probably play nine tomorrow. That's maybe a little different from previous years.
“I think if I contrast my few weeks leading into the 2015 Masters, coming off the summer in 2014 and going for the Grand Slam and my third major in a row and all that, it feels a little more relaxed this week, which, as I said, isn't a bad thing.
“I would have loved to have done it at this point, but I realize I've still got plenty more years to do it. But yeah, look, if I were able to do it, I'd join a very small list of golfers in history that have been able to do it. So I know where it would put me in the game and how cool it would be, and I would love to do it one day.
“But for me to do that, I just have to go out and try to play four good rounds of golf on this golf course, which I've played a bunch of really good rounds on this golf course before, but just not four in a row. That's the challenge for me. And if I can do that and get my head in the right -- get my head in the right place and feel like my game's where it needs to be, then I have no doubt that I can -- that I can put it all together.”