Rory McIlroy was struggling early during Thursday’s first round of the 2023 PGA Championship, which was perhaps to be expected.
McIlroy withdrew from the RBC Heritage last month for personal reasons, has been working through some swing stuff and generally seems tired answering the existential questions about golf’s future.
After a series of wayward drives on his front nine, McIlroy made the turn in a disappointing three-over, then looked in serious trouble when he short-sided himself on the second hole, his 11th of the day. It was an impossibly difficult pin position already, and McIlroy was in the worst spot possible.
But then, a plot twist!
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From off the green, McIlroy putted his ball up the hill, down the slope — and straight into the hole. One shot which helped him gain almost half a stroke over the rest of the field.
It’s a good moment to highlight because there’s two big things golfers can learn from it.
First is that short-siding yourself is generally a really terrible mistake to make. One to avoid at all costs, whenever possible. McIlroy didn’t mean to leave his ball here, and even though he got away with it this time, wouldn’t want to make this mistake again.
But the nature of golf is that you’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to miss in spots you don’t want to. Which brings us to the second point: Rory’s club selection.
It’s fair to say most amateur golfers would’ve whipped out the lob wedge here, and try to float something high that landed soft. Rory has that shot if he needs it. If he was in the rough, he would’ve needed it. But McIlroy instead pulled a putter.
When you make a mistake and get into bad positions — which you will — the worst possible thing golfers can do is make another mistake immediately afterwards. A flop shot brings with it all kinds of downsides. Thins and chunks and everything in between. When you get out of position your goal isn’t to try for the hero shot. It is to quite simply, get back into position, as boring and as quickly as possible.
That’s what Rory turned to the putter for. Then, by happy coincidence, he enjoyed the best possible outcome. It was a late kickstarter for the rest of his round: A par save here led to three more birdies on the back for a one-over 71 overall.
It served as a good reminder for the rest of us, too. Forget the hero shot. Play the percentages. Even if they seem boring, you’ll like the outcome a lot more.