NEW YORK – As Rory McIlroy tries to put all pieces of the puzzle together and claim a fifth major title at this week’s US Open, he has received a vote of confidence from his putting mentor.
Brad Faxon, probably the best putter in the world during the 1990s, rates McIlroy as “one of the best players of all time” and believes his next major win is a matter of when, not if.
It is now 13 majors and counting since McIlroy last lifted a trophy at the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla, however, and the scorecard does not lie.
Even winning regular tournaments has been tough over the past 18 months for the Northern Irishman, who has tasted victory only once since the 2016 Tour Championship.
Nonetheless, he will start among the favourites at Shinneock Hills, where he has already been embedded for more than week.
“Rory’s got more potential than anybody,” Faxon told Reuters in a recent interview.
“He’s got the most complete game I’ve ever seen. (He can hit the ball) long, high, low, right, left, and he’s good around the greens.”
Maybe so, but mediocre putting has prevented McIlroy from closing the deal more often.
He was given a lesson of sorts from Faxon before the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March and proceeded to putt like a master. After shooting a closing 64 at Bay Hill in Florida to storm to victory, he was quick to credit Faxon.
“(He) freed up my head more than my stroke,” said McIlroy, who felt he had become bogged down in technical thoughts.
Faxon, for his part, is modest about his involvement, saying McIlroy had already set in motion the wheels of success.
“He had already made two changes,” Faxon said. “He went to a longer putter, and felt better with an open stance. He told me that’s something he wanted to do, how he putted when he won his four majors. How am I going to say ‘no, that’s not a good idea’?”
It has not been smooth sailing on the greens since for McIlroy, who finished a disappointing equal fifth at the Masters after starting the final round second behind eventual winner Patrick Reed.
He was also unable to seal the deal at the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship two weeks ago, finishing second.
He flew back across the Atlantic and barely made the cut at the Memorial tournament before rallying to tie for eighth.
“I’m happy enough with that and feel like I’ve seen a lot of good stuff over the last couple of days to give me encouragement heading into the US Open,” McIlroy said after the final round.
“So my game feels pretty good. As long as I can keep the ball in play at Shinnecock, I feel like I’ll have a good chance.”
If the putts fail to drop early, McIlroy’s chances might depend on what Faxon says is an often overlooked mental aspect: “How you accept misses and makes.”
“That’s a very un-talked about part of the game,” Faxon said. “The best putters were very good at being able to forget their misses.”