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August 13 2012

8:30 PM

Stockton helps Rory’s mental game, too

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Rory McIlroy had plenty to smile about after capturing his second career major Sunday.

By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- As Dave Stockton sat in his Redland, Calif., home and watched Rory McIlroy’s record-setting performance unfold at the PGA Championship, one of the things the putting guru was most proud of was how McIlroy managed his emotions through a bogey-free 67 in the final round en route to a record-setting victory.

Not until the final putt fell on the 18th hole for birdie on Sunday did the 23-year-old McIlroy let loose, sobbing in the arms of his father as the two embraced on the putting green.

Three months earlier, however, McIlroy had a different set of emotions. Mired in a mini-slump of four missed cuts in five starts, McIlroy was being questioned on everything from his swing, to the impact his girlfriend, tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, was having on his golf.

All of it seeped into how McIlroy carried himself on the golf course, and how he played. He admitted as much Sunday, saying he underwent a big learning curve because he’d never endured such scrutiny before.

Stockton didn’t care. All he wanted to do -- aside from help McIlroy with his putting stroke -- was get his pupil to smile and enjoy himself on the golf course.

“What I didn’t like looking at on the TV when he was struggling was that I could tell when he had made birdie or bogey by his body language,” Stockton said. “The best part of last week was that when he missed a shot you never saw a change in his demeanor.”

Perhaps nothing best exemplified that than McIlroy’s 3-over 75 in 30-mph crosswinds on Friday. Conditions were so difficult, the field averaged 78. McIlroy never wavered, though.

On the 15th hole, he hit what Stockton called one of the worst putts he’s ever seen with McIlroy leaving a lengthy par attempt less than halfway to the hole. He made the next putt for bogey, however, and one hole later bounced back with a towering 4-iron into the breeze to set up a birdie on the par-5 16th.

It was a sign of not only what McIlroy had been working on with his swing, but a show of maturity, too.

“You saw no change in his emotion,” Stockton said.

What we have seen is a change in how McIlroy has learned to manage the good with the bad, thanks in part to Stockton.

“You never saw Jack Nicklaus get frustrated,” Stockton said. “I’m sure there were times he did, but you almost never saw it. I told Rory to smile more. I want him to look like he’s having a good time out there.”

He certainly was on Sunday as he sped to an eight-shot victory.

Perhaps it’s not coincidence, either, that McIlroy’s major success came at two venues -- Congressional and The Ocean Course -- where Stockton had some, too (he won at Congressional and captained the 1991 U.S. Ryder Cup team to victory at Kiawah).

“We had a chat last week in Akron and he just said to me, ‘Enjoy it. This is what you've always wanted to do since you were a little boy. There's no point in getting frustrated out there or getting upset,’” McIlroy said. “That's the attitude that I had for the last couple weeks, and it definitely helped.”

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