When Jordan Spieth saw Rory McIlroy had made the change this week to his putting grip to left-hand low or “cross-handed,” Spieth said to McIlroy, “You’ve switched to the dark side, I see.”
McIlroy made it no secret earlier this week at the WGC-Cadillac Championship that he was switching putting grips after missing the cut at last week at the Honda Classic. (One of the beauties of Doral is that there’s no cut, so what do you have to lose?) Funny enough, McIlroy, who lit it up on Friday, firing a 7-under 65, was concerned before going with the big change that people would accuse him of “copying” Spieth, who putts cross-handed and is arguably the best putter in the world at the moment.
“It’s funny, I’ve been playing it around in my head a little bit about making the switch,” said McIlroy, who vaulted to T2 on the leaderboard heading into the weekend. “And the one thing that I was sort of worried about was the McIlroy copying Spieth. That was my big thing. That was the whole thing for me was that.
“But it’s felt really comfortable, it really has. As I said, I’d done it before my rookie year on The European Tour in 2008. Yeah, I’ve hit a lot of putts in practice with my left hand only, and I feel like just having the left hand lower, it keeps that feeling. With the right hand going on there, it’s more of a guide than anything else.”
At the end of the day, besides silly, juvenile concerns, a switch like that of McIlroy’s caliber isn’t *that* big of a deal. As we know, golfers are forever tinkerers and sometimes it’s a mental thing, but you just need a change and if it works, then that’s great, and if it doesn’t, he can always drop it and go back to a conventional grip.
“I don’t think it takes that much courage. I mean, in my mind, it couldn’t really have gotten any worse. So why not make a change, and the change is feeling very comfortable at the minute, and as I said at the start of the week, I’m willing to stick with it for as long as I can.”
McIlroy isn’t surprised by the quick results.
“Because it has felt so good in practice.” said McIlroy. “And I’ve always said, there should be zero difference between the practice green and out there on the course. You know, you’re hitting putts — it’s the same thing.
“Obviously the circumstances are slightly different but if you break it down to the simplest form, that putt on the practice green is the same as a putt on the course. I’ve seen improvements on the putting green, so it’s nice to see those improvements translate on to the golf course.”
McIlroy spoke to Spieth about making the change, along with another left-hand low putter, Justin Thomas.
“I had a chat with (Jordan) about it, and I played nine holes with Justin on Wednesday, as well, and he’s left below right,” said McIlroy. “He went to the left below right for a couple of the same reasons that I did. I felt like when I put my right hand on the grip, I — to square my shoulders up, my right hand got stronger and stronger, that’s why it got a little bit more active.
“So to be able to put your hands on the grip and know your shoulders are perfectly square before you even try to hit a putt, knowing that your fundamentals and everything are set, it makes it much easier to just, you know, not think about that and rock your shoulders and make a good stroke.”
McIlroy needed 33 putts in his opening round of 71 at Doral, but it was a different story on Friday as he one-putted nine of the first 12 holes and only had 23 shots on the greens. The 26-year-old from Northern Ireland birdied four holes in a row from nos. 5-9, then made the turn in 32, and saved par from seven and nine feet on the 10th and 11th, respectively. McIlroy drained a 10-footer for birdie on the par-5 12th. He followed it with another no no. 15 and then made a big one on no. 18, the tough finishing par-4, which he double-bogeyed in the first round.
“Look, even though I didn’t hole as many putts yesterday, I didn’t doubt what I was doing for one second,” said McIlroy, who trails leader Adam Scott by two shots. “I knew that this was the right way forward for me. But of course, the emotions are slightly different; coming off the course and shooting 7-under to doubling the last last night and shooting 1-under, it’s a bit different.
“I’m very comfortable with where it is and very happy with where it is. It was nice to make that putt on the last, because I had great chances on 16 and 17 to make birdies, and you know, I saw (Scott) got to 10-under par after 17, and I really wanted to make that putt on 18 just to try and stay with him going into the weekend.”
McIlroy worked for a while on the practice green after the first round, trying to become more comfortable with the new grip and getting down the speed.
“I worked more on speed,” he said. “I just hit a lot of long putts, a lot of lag putts, because I felt like my speed was off. So just trying to get a little more feel into it. Not really worrying too much — I mean, obviously I’m gripping it differently but then it’s just about trying to get a feel for the greens.
“I think, as well, I’m striking the ball so much better off the putter and it’s coming off so much softer that I don’t have to be afraid of hitting it hard because the roll is so much better and the consistency of the strike is so much better; that I know that I can give putts a go and they are not going to roll way past or get low early. It’s been good.”
McIlroy is tied for second, along with Dustin Johnson, at eight-under through 36 holes at Trump National Doral.