DUBLIN, Ohio — Frustrated with his putting at the Irish Open, Rory McIlroy decided to change his grip from left-hand low back to a conventional grip on Thursday at the Memorial Tournament.
Despite winning his home Open for the first time two weeks ago — his first title anywhere since November — McIlroy left Ireland concerned about the 127 putts he had over four rounds.
“I won that golf tournament with my ball striking alone,” McIlroy said. “I thought about it for a while, and I was messing around on the putting green over the weekend. Just went back to the grip and really trying to focus on the basics like setup and eye position and ball position and stuff like that, alignment.”
McIlroy made the grip change with the Memorial and the U.S. Open in mind — two events he said have greens requiring “so much feel and touch.”
Of course, like most changes, McIlroy admitted the old grip — he used left-hand for the last three months — took some getting used to. He spent last weekend working with a conventional grip and started to feel comfortable with it by the third day.
“After 30 minutes or an hour, it feels normal,” McIlroy said of his old grip. “But I think the thing is — one thing I did like about left hand low is it squared my shoulders up. So I’m really trying to focus on alignment and really setting up to the ball correctly each and every time and being really strict with that.”
Along with making a change to his grip, McIlroy revealed he put a black line back on his golf ball to help with alignment.
“I’m using the line on the ball again — and sometimes even on the course, it feels uncomfortable because — you know, sometimes I don’t feel like the line is aiming where it actually is. So I need to work on my — I’m working on the mirror and working on the ball position and my eye position. So I’m trying to be really structured with that. I feel like, if I’m consistent with that, that will give me the best chance going forward.”
The conventional grip produced mixed results Thursday. McIlroy missed a four-footer for bogey on the 16th but rebounded on two separate occasions with back-to-back birdies, including the last two holes of his round, to shoot 1-under 71. In total, he needed 29 putts at Muirfield Village.
With the U.S. Open only two weeks away, McIlroy said he’s committed to sticking with a conventional grip for the long haul, even though it may take some getting used to again.
“I’ve given left-hand low a go,” McIlroy said. “I won a tournament with it. I’m moving on.”
McIlroy also said he’s moving forward on a journey that will take him to the Olympics.
After spending some time researching the Zika virus and talking to health experts, McIlroy said he is unlikely to pull out of the Olympic golf tournament this summer in Rio de Janeiro.
“I’m ready to play,” McIlroy said. “I feel like the advice I’ve sought out over the past 10 days has put my mind at ease and makes me more comfortable going down there knowing that, even if I do contract Zika, it’s not the end of the world. It takes six months to pass through your system, and you’re fine.”
Following his Irish Open victory on May 22, McIlroy had expressed concern to the BBC about going to Rio for the Olympics. He said he was monitoring the situation in Brazil with the outbreak of the virus, especially in lights of its effect on pregnant women; McIlroy is engaged and has talked about starting a family.
McIlroy, a Northern Irishman who is the third-ranked player in the world, said he had “sought out some advice” and believes that the global epidemic is due more to those traveling to South America and not realizing they have it.
“You can get tested for it, and it’s either a yes or a no you’ve had it,” he said. “It’s a virus. It works its way out of your system, and you become immune to it.”
McIlroy also said he remains lukewarm to the idea of golf as an Olympic sport.
“I can’t tell you know how it’s going to grow the game and all,” he said, “but people will watch it on TV, and whether they see it and say, OK, I want to have a go at that, I want to try that — if parents want to get their kids into it from a certain country because they want them to be Olympic champions, that remains to be seen, but you’re going to get golf fans watching down there just like you do at any other golf event.”