Has Rory's swing changed much since 2014?
Here we look back to 2014 when during Sky Sports’ broadcast from the HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi, the point was made that everyone can have a couple of bad days at the office – even Rory McIlroy, the world No. 1 at the time.
There is simply no question that Rory is one of the most talented athletes ever to play the game. his swing is a thing of beauty however you choose to look at it, but the view down the line, as we have presented it here, best enables you to appreciate the way in which Rory gathers momentum and enjoys such terrific speed through the ball via the blend of arm and body motion.
We have highlighted groups of three images, as we feel these really do justice to the specific areas of the swing to focus on: the takeaway; the completion of the backswing to the transition; the delivery of the club through the ball and the balance at the finish.
Starting with the address posture, Rory just looks so natural and athletic over the ball. the angles are all in order –a gentle flex in the knees (not overly so), good angle at the hips, head up, and arms hanging freely. he looks comfortable and correct, which is not always the case. Some players appear correct position-wise, but do not look comfortable over the ball. If you are uncomfortable here you are also likely to be tense, which does nothing for your ability to create a golf swing.
Rory's flowing arm in the golf swing sets up width & rhythm
As he moves the club away from the ball, you will notice the clubhead stays outside the hands. This is one of the characteristics of Rory’s swing – and, more often than not, a great strength, as it is the means by which he achieves the wonderful flow of motion between arms and body. But (and it’s only a small ‘but’), this move can, on occasion, create timing issues, as the arms and body get out of sync, which seemed to be the case in Abu Dhabi.
Keeping the clubhead outside the hands not only helps a player establish width but it promotes the freedom of the swing as the arms have all the room in the world. Here (2), the left arm looks as if it is just moving off his body, while the right elbow remains out in front – it hasn’t got ‘deep’ at that point. This is Rory’s style – a flowing arm swing that he (usually!) times perfectly with his body action.
Keeping the club in front of the hands for as long as possible in the takeaway allows the club to then find the correct plane in the backswing. Sure enough, as you can see in this third image, while the hands and arms do still appear outside the line (and the left arm seems slightly delayed in crossing the chest), the club is starting to ‘set’ up, This is not a flaw, it is simply Rory’s way of doing things. And it allows for the beautiful flow of the arms that you appreciate when you look at the overall sequence of motion – you can see how the dynamic of this initial sequence paves the way for a wonderfully full backswing and a slick change of direction.
Rory McIlroy Finding plane as he moves through the gears
This is where you really start to see the left arm changing its plane and going across the line as Rory reaches the top of his swing. And, in selecting these three specific images in the sequence, I hope you can appreciate the completeness of this backswing position and the dynamics involved as Rory starts his way down. This is just world-class athleticism, and although still images never do justice to the true quality of a swing, I think the small frames running below do a pretty good job of capturing Rory’s flow of motion.
There’s a classic lesson in here, too. What you might describe as a ‘New Modern Fundamental’ of the pro game is not to brace the right knee in the backswing. Look closely at the sequence and you will see Rory’s right leg actually straightens a little between its position at the set-up and the top of the backswing. This is pretty much accepted now on tour. You won’t find too many players consciously trying to hold that resistance in the right leg. Most tour players are allowing their right leg to straighten and get a little taller as they reach the top of the swing, which then gives them an extra push off into the downswing – a platform to spring off through the change in direction. Just look at the change in the shape of the right leg here as Rory completes his backswing and shifts into the transition.
Between images 5 and 6, the right leg changes shape very quickly – this is happening during the change in direction, and it gives Rory a terrific platform to spring off. He is, in effect, drawing energy up from the ground to maximise the recoil effect, which is then translated into speed. You will also note the way in which the club changes plane as he works through the transition, shallowing the shaft onto a beautiful delivery plane in readiness for the final burst of acceleration through the ball.
But it is this ‘springboard’ effect that is most interesting. Just as Tiger Woods can be seen to compress his body in the change of direction (often losing significant height in the process), Rory is utilising his interaction with the ground to maximise the efficiency of his recoil. So, looking at frame 6, he settles into this distinct ‘squat’ position, compressing the knees against the resistance of the ground, before then launching off that platform through impact. And combined with the wonderful ability he has to flow his arm-swing with his body motion, it is this body dynamic that explains Rory’s immense power.
Rory's free-flow rhythm for a better transition in the golf swing
So, there are two key points to note here: (1) the way the club changes plane – i.e. shallows – as it starts down, plus (2) the obvious ‘springboard effect’ Rory is enjoying via the interaction with the ground. The great Sam Snead always used to say that you have to feel the ground through your feet and use its energy to empower your swing – hence his love of hitting balls in bare feet. And this is where Rory is just so good.
Not only is the lower body a suspension unit that provides the essential balance and stability to the rotation of the torso, but in using the resistance of the ground the legs add to the overall dynamic, optimising the recoil effect and so maximising power.
What’s more, when you study these frames in sequence, you appreciate the fact that the top of the swing is simply a passing-through area – it is not your final destination. Too many golfers who clearly work on ‘reaching’ the top of the backswing, to the detriment of their overall rhythm and motion. As Rory demonstrates better than perhaps anyone in the game today, the one sure key to maximizing your speed is to blend the two halves of your swing seamlessly with a fluid change of direction.
Hip rotation is the key to Rory McIlroy's turbo-like speed in the golf swing
A good golf swing is a chain reaction in which one good move leads to another… and here we can enjoy the frame-to-impact as Rory unwinds with full commitment to the shot. By the time he gets to this delivery position (7), the club is in the perfect slot’, matching the angle of the right forearm, and you can really sense the power about to be unleashed. One of the characteristics of all good ball strikers is that the club does not come from behind the body (where it is liable to get ‘stuck’, or ‘trapped’), but from out in front, which is something Rory displays beautifully. And, from here, he has all the room in the world in which to release the club in a manner that reflects his intentions with the shot.
As he fires through – pictures 9 and 10 – we are reminded once again of the special physical ability he has to rotate his hips at terrific speed. From the top of the backswing, he re-rotates his hips to clear his body out of the way for impact, before adding a secondary rotation, turning hard to the left of the target (frame 8).
In other words, while Rory starts the downswing with what would be considered a textbook hip rotation in readiness to clear the left side, he then has the ability to add what can best be described as a turbo boost, rotating his left side out of the way – and that’s where his incredible turn of speed comes from. This is not something you can teach. It is a natural move. All you can do is sit back and admire it.
The uninhibited release of youthful exuberance
The final images in the sequence confirm that nothing gets in the way to compromise the delivery of the club through the ball. This is a driver swing and it is flowing all the way to the finish. A totally uninhibited, youthful, free-flowing motion.
The thing that always strikes me when I watch Rory live is just how much rhythm and timing there is in the swing and how the positions are technically very correct. Every so often he does get a little out with his timing, and then it’s a case of getting back together with his coach, Michael Bannon, who has known Rory since he was a kid. And it usually doesn’t take them very long to iron out whatever is the problem and get this glorious movement back up to speed.
The key to improving and enjoying this quality in your own swing is not to regard the top of the backswing as a destination, but more as a passing-through area as you shift through the gears and allow the natural winding and unwinding of the body to generate maximum speed.
Work with the ground upon which you are standing, too. Interact with it. Feel its resistance and use that energy to create that springboard effect that accelerates your downswing. Rory does this better than anyone in the game today.
Originally posted in 2014