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Lesson Learned: McIlroy’s “Ground Game” Can Help You Get It Close Around the Green

By Keith Stewart, PGA
Published on

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland putts on the 14th green during the final round of THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT at The Summit Club on October 17, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

“If you want to get it close, putt it. If you want to make it, chip it.” – television commentator
Well on Sunday afternoon at the CJ Cup at Summit Rory McIlroy certainly showed all of us that putting can be the key. Many of these articles are written with the average golfer in mind. Rory is far from average, but on Sunday he knocked in an eagle on the 14th hole with his putter from off the green. There’s an incorrect stereotype that good players don’t putt from off the green.
Short game shots are so important. They define each round we play. If you want to take advantage of every possible scoring opportunity in your round, it’s imperative you choose to make sound decisions around the green. Modern golf courses like The Summit Club in Las Vegas have challenging green surrounds. Watch where Rory hits this putt from.
That position was a simple one and he used the putter. Too many times golfers don’t break down the short game situation correctly. The most important rule when it comes to playing a shot around the green is to get the ball rolling as soon as possible. Every chip-in or hole out always rolls into the hole. This isn’t basketball. To get it close and make it, the best chance is from the green surface. McIlroy knew that, and as a result he chose to use his putter.
It may take a couple times reading that line to really have it sink in. Start to think about all different types of short game situations. One of the most common they mention on television is being short sided to the hole. The reason that is so difficult is because you have nowhere to roll the ball into the hole. The ground is your friend, use it as much as possible.
Why is using the ground so much better? We know what the ball will do on the ground. Try this experiment the next time you visit the short game practice area. Take five balls and lob them to the hole. Make sure they fly high into the air. Watch where they land and roll to. Then roll five balls toward the hole using the ground. The second five will be much easier to get close to the hole.
The best part about using the ground more is that it will help you focus on your landing target more. A topic that all PGA Coaches wish their players would do more. In using the ground, you will quickly notice most of those landing targets will be closer to you. This will allow you to use a less lofted club with a shorter swing. Short swings have less room for error and lower lofted clubs are easier to strike crisply.
In that same short game practice area go to an area where you can play a high shot and low shot to the hole. Choose a hole that’s at least 15 yards away. Start by hitting the highest lofted club in your bag five times. Then choose an 8 or 9-iron and hit five more to the same target along the ground. The second approach always wins.
That’s why Rory chose to putt in route to his 20th victory on the PGA Tour. Not because it was easier, but rather because it was the smartest play to lower his score. Going forward, follow Rory’s example and lower your score as well.

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