After being ‘stuck in neutral’ all season, Rory McIlroy looks ahead to 2018

Rory McIlroy summarized his 2017 year best after he shot an even-par 72 on the Old Course at St. Andrews on a day in which Ross Fisher broke the course record with a 61 at the Dunhill Links Championship.

“I think my last round of 2017 sort of summed up all of 2017,” said McIlroy. “Not much happening, good or bad. Just sort of stuck in neutral. Yeah, hasn’t been the year I wanted on the golf course. I feel even though I haven’t won and the results haven’t been what I have wanted, I feel like I can still salvage something from the rest of the year. 

“Even though I’m not playing, I’ve given myself a lot of opportunity to put a lot of good foundations in place going forward. That’s what I’m going to concentrate on from now until the end of the year.”

We almost certainly won’t see McIlroy again until January 2018 at his probable calendar year debut at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship. Until then, McIlroy is going to spend time in the gym, work on his wedge game and putter and try to heal up from a niggling rib injury that pestered him all year (starting in January).

“I played for four months without hitting a shot from left to right,” McIlroy told Chris Solomon on the No Laying Up Podcast referencing his injury. “If you look at my statistics, my wedge play has not been very good. My iron play has not been very good. It’s so nice that I have this time in the offseason to work on all this stuff and make sure it hopefully it never happens again.”

McIlroy finished No. 52 on the PGA Tour in strokes gained on approach shots (he’s normally in the top 35) and No. 140 in strokes gained with the putter. He was also No. 145 in approach shots from 100-125 yards and No. 190 (!) in approach shots from 125-150 yards.

He is still probably the best driver of the golf ball in the world (and maybe the best ever), but to get back to winning multiple major championships and achieving his goal of becoming the best European golfer (and maybe the best international golfer ever), McIlroy is going to have to first of all get himself healthy and improve his game significantly from 150 yards and in.

“I feel like my wedge play was very good at a point,” he told Solomon. I think it’s just I need to work on it a little bit. If I can create the right path and the right speed through impact, there’s no doubt I can get back to being a really good wedge player. But it’s something I have struggled with this year.”

McIlroy, who had six top 10s this season but no top threes, went pretty deep on the science behind why he struggles with his wedges (essentially his swing speed creates wide gaps between his wedge distances), and the whole thing was really interesting. 

I’m already excited about his 2018. Few golfers can juice the sport like McIlroy, but he was not as electric in 2017 as usual. Hopefully he’s able to get his rib fully healed going into the end of the calendar year, and he’s able to properly address some of the swing issues he’s had throughout the season. Golfers of his caliber rarely get the downtime needed to truly work on certain parts of their bodies or games so the next three months should be a reprieve. 

“I won’t start hitting balls until the end of November,” said McIlroy. “The next few weeks is just in the gym and rehab and getting my body right to be able to go into that practice and be able to start 2018 strongly.

It’s sometimes difficult to remember that McIlroy is still 28 and should have at least a decade of runway in front of him to unfurl the prime of his career. Hopefully that will be a decade free of injury and rife with a more mature, even better golfer than we saw in his early 20s. Toss a red-hot Rory into the mix with Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson at the top of their games, and 2018 could be insane.

“I’m definitely a better player I feel than the player that won some of those tournaments and some of those majors,” he said. “I feel like I’m a much better player now than I was in 2010 and 2012 when I was able to win a couple of majors. I see no reason why I can’t better that in the next 10 years. That’s why I feel like these three months are very important for me to put some really good things in place and step away and just reassess everything and reassess where I’m at and where I need to be.

“It’s just about trying to gain an advantage here or there … making sure I’m sort of not leaving any stone unturned and do everything I can to get back to the best player in the world.”

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