THE GUY BEHIND MCILROY'S SWING
Michael Bannon's name doesn’t come up in a discussion of the world’s great swing coaches, nor is his work picked apart like that of Tiger Woods’ teacher, Sean Foley.
Bannon’s job is to stay in the background and, from a base at Bangor Golf Club in Northern Ireland, keep Rory McIlroy’s swing looking as pretty as ever.
Bannon, 53, is an old-school coach, but he uses the Internet to stay connected to the U.S. Open champion. While playing tournaments around the world, McIlroy gets emails from Bannon that regularly include videos of McIlroy’s swing from past years. McIlroy, 22, might remember a time in 2007 when he was swinging well, so Bannon will attach a video from that period to refresh his memory.
"I have thousands upon thousands of his swings on a laptop," says Bannon, who has been McIlroy's coach for more than 14 years. One example of their long-distance relationship: After McIlroy played in the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda in October, Bannon told Rory that his arms were too far from his body when he swung. That flaw might have contributed to his third-place finish in the four-person field. So Rory made an adjustment.
“It worked,” Bannon says, noting the late-season run that McIlroy had, including wins at the UBS Hong Kong Open and a playoff victory against Anthony Kim in the Shanghai Masters.
How often do Bannon and McIlroy actually see each other? This past year there was a four-month stretch where they didn't have a face-to-face practice session.
"When things are going well, you don’t want to have to change too much structurally,” Bannon says. “People comment about the natural way he just stands up and swings it. That’s the way we like it. If there’s a little glitch, we’ll leave it until such times when we can change it. I let him be the driver.”
Bannon got the job as Rory’s coach after moving to Holywood, Northern Ireland, in 1983 and befriending his father, Gerry McIlroy. Part of Rory’s swing is inherited, Bannon says. “Gerry’s swing is free- flowing, longish with good rhythm. It must be the genes.”
In addition to natural ability, Rory could also copy elements of tour-pro swings at an early age, Bannon says. So their work focused mostly on posture and setup. Other than weakening Rory's grip when he was 12, the two haven’t made any major changes. Their biggest concerns are that McIlroy’s shoulders are “hyper-mobile,” Bannon says, and that he’s getting stronger by working with strength coach Steve MacGregor. Both could affect his swing.
But as far as going through multiple swing changes like Tiger has with various swing coaches, Bannon doesn’t see that happening with McIlroy.
“I don’t understand what [Tiger] does. It’s like he wants to change himself into a new player all the time. Rory is content to keep work- ing. It’s his swing. I can’t see him saying we have to have a remake now and take two years off.”
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