Golf is more than hitting the ball and hoping it finds its way to the green. Some of the most challenging aspects of the game come on the strategic side. You’ll need a certain approach to conquer each hole on the course.
Pro Tips jumped into the cart with Rory McIlroy to check out his process during a round. The professional golfer shared his strategy while playing through three different holes: a par 3, par 4 and par 5.
McIlroy starts with a relatively short hole of about 194 yards with a bunker located to the right. He focuses on a large target for his opening shot: the fat part of the green.
“I always want to try to hit something into the sort of middle of the green, and I try to work it back to the pin so that if it doesn’t work back to the pin, it’s still going to be in the middle of the green and I’ll have a putt for birdie,” he says.
McIlroy chooses a club he knows will get the ball to the green: a 6-iron. It might even carry the ball a little further, but he plans on using the wind to cut a few yards off the distance. The choice is a good one as the ball lands to the right of the cup.
As he approaches the green for the putt, McIlroy says he immediately starts his read.
“Where are the slopes coming from? You know, what I may see in this putt. And even walking up to this putt, I know that it’s going to be a right-to-left putt,” McIlroy says. “It looks a little uphill. So, I have a fair idea of what it’s going to do.”
Once he gets to the ball, McIlroy is able to get a better feel for the green, including which way the ball may break. After reading the green, McIlroy sinks the putt for a birdie.
Looking for more Pro Tips for your short game? Check out McIlroy’s advice on how to successfully read a green.
The second hole of the trek has plenty of danger spots. Starting 438 yards from the cup, this hole features a left-side fairway bunker and the out-of-bounds area. On the right side is a large fairway bunker.
McIlroy considers the position of the tee box an advantage on this hole.
“The tee box is sort of aiming me down the right side here, which is nice,” he says. “It’s pointing in a direction that you sort of want to go.”
BONUS PRO TIP: If you’re looking for more driving tips, make sure to check out how McIlroy sets up for his drives and how the backswing can affect your tee shot.
After McIlroy’s drive places him in the middle of the green 104 yards from the flag, he plans his approach. This hole is particularly difficult with the pin to the left of the green. This placement doesn’t allow McIlroy to see the bottom of the flag from where his ball is.
“I think sometimes that can be a little tricky,” McIlroy says. “I think it’s a lot easier to see where you really want the ball to land, where a shot like this we’re not able to see where that ball lands. So, that’s where it really comes into knowing how far you hit every club, trusting your numbers. And that’s been a big thing I’ve worked on this year is just really trying to get my yardages dialed in with my wedges.”
McIlroy needs to dial back the power of his shot with a sand wedge to help set him up on the green. After reading the green, McIlroy determines the slope would place the ball six inches to the right if he aimed directly at the cup.
“I’ve got a pretty good target here of where I want this ball to start,” McIlroy says. “And I know I need to keep the speed on it as well. So, I’m going to hit it pretty hard.”
However, the ball rolls a few inches past the hole to the right on his first putt, forcing McIlroy to make a tap-in for par.
The final hole on this journey is a total of 575 yards. With the wind coming in from the left, McIlroy focuses on hitting a draw up the middle of the fairway against the wind. The shot puts him 263 yards from the pin.
Now McIlroy must decide between using a 3-wood or a 5-wood. With the pin sitting on the right side of the green, McIlroy opts for his 3-wood to cut his way onto the green.
“Sort of really try to shape one in there. I think it’s probably the easiest way for me to get this ball close,” he says.
However, the shot lands him in the rough just outside of the green. With a small batch of green to work with, McIlroy uses a pitch shot to get out of the Bermuda rough.
“What I try to do is with Bermuda rough, I try to open the clubface up quite a lot but then keep the speed on it on the way through,” he says. “So, you can hit it hard enough, but you’ve got enough loft on it that it’s not really going to get away from you too much. So really try to open it up. Try to get a little bit of speed on it.”
A solid pitch shot sets up McIlroy to finish this three-hole trip with a birdie.
McIlroy also had plenty to share between shots on the course. Check out what he had to say on a variety of topics.
How he relaxes away from the course:
“I’ve started to play a lot more tennis again. We moved into a new house, and we’ve got a tennis court and I bought a ball machine. It holds 200 balls, and I’ve been out there grinding most days that I’ve been off and trying to work on my backhand. And it’s so good. I mean, I never really knew how good ball machines are, but you don’t have to rely on anyone to feed you or to come over and play with you. It’s just, you know, I set this thing up and just get these balls going to my backhand and just work on a few things. And so, I’ve been playing a lot of tennis, which has been – it’s been a nice escape from golf.”
His first big purchase after joining the tour:
“For me, I always thought, like, the real epitome of success was a Ferrari. Like, I just wanted a Ferrari so bad. And when I won my first tournament in Dubai, I was 19 years old and the first thing I did was go onto a website and be like, right, ‘I’m getting myself one.’”
Practicing with wedges and his short game:
“You control it by your length of the swing or the speed of the swing. And it really depends on what you’re most comfortable with. I find that sometimes, for me, trying to control the speed isn’t one of my strong points. So, I try to swing with the same acceleration through the ball but with just different lengths of swings and that seems to work a little bit better for me.”
His relationship with fellow golfer Brad Faxon:
“Fax and I, it’s more of a, I wouldn’t say it’s a player/coach relationship. It’s more of a friendship. And, you know, it’s more of we catch up every time. We live 10 minutes from each other. Some of the best putting lessons I’ve had with Brad have not even been on the putting green.”
Want to get to know McIlroy even better? Find out everything from his favorite podcast to his go-to pizza topping with these rapid-fire questions.