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Chasing Distance: Rory McIlroy off the Tee

Rory McIlroy driver swing

Golfers are obsessed with one thing above all else – driving distance. The allure of carrying the ball 300 yards off the tee is irresistible, as if raw power validates your status as a skilled player. While distance is important, becoming fixated on achieving maximum yardage often backfires through lost accuracy and control. Rory McIlroy, one of the PGA Tour’s longest drivers, provides a case study in optimizing distance without sacrificing consistency.

We have covered Tiger Woods’ short game, Tommy Fleetwood’s Swing Drills, and in this post, we’ll take a look at Rory off the tee – his stats, mindset, and what we can learn from him. Among other things, we’ll cover his Peloton obsession, McIlroy’s favorite Driver drill, and suggest some of Rory’s go-to training aids, like the Tour Striker Smart Ball, that can help the recreational golfer improve their game and shoot lower scores. Don’t forget to check out the other posts in our “Chasing Distance” Series or our post on one of Rory’s favorite courses, Royal County Down, where we take a bump and run lesson from Rory.

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Rory By The Numbers

Rory McIlroy has been a dominant force in professional golf, spending over 100 weeks ranked number one in the world. Despite standing just 5’7″, he averages over 320 yards off the tee, confounding expectations that driving distance requires a bigger, stronger physique. McIlroy matches his upper body strength with incredible leg drive to generate jaw-dropping clubhead speed. His balance, core stability and precise sequencing allow him to control his length while bombing drives further than almost anyone.

  • Average Driving Distance in 2022: 326.3 yards (1st on PGA Tour)
  • Club Head Speed in 2022: 122.8 mph (9th on PGA Tour)
  • Driving Accuracy Percentage in 2022: 53.25% (155th on PGA Tour)
  • Career High Average Drive Distance: 326.3 yards (2022 season)
  • Has ranked 1st in Driving Distance on PGA Tour 3 times (2012, 2017, 2022)
  • Average has steadily increased, from 300 yards in 2009 to 326 yards in 2022
  • Club head speed has increased from 118 mph to 122.8 mph in 2022
  • His accuracy has fluctuated year to year, ranging from 53-66% over his career
Rory McIlroy Teeing off

Mindset Off The Tee

Rory McIlroy focuses on hitting both a fade and a draw off the tee to maximize control of his driver. He tees the ball high, with about three quarters above the top of the driver, to launch it as high as possible for maximum distance (see our article on Tee Height to dial in your own optimal carry distance). This Golf Digest article has more on Rory’s tee strategy. McIlroy has worked on patience and club selection, reminding himself that he can use 3-woods and irons off the tee when driver isn’t necessary. His ideal driver carries about 300 yards with a tight dispersion – fades spinning around 2400 rpm, draws 2100 rpm, and high bombs 2200 rpm.

Rory’s Training

After an injury scare in 2010 McIlroy was motivated to get stronger and protect his body in order to sustain his career. Rory has taken an integrated approach focusing on strength, flexibility, swing mechanics, and conditioning to gain length off the tee. His commitment to comprehensive fitness has allowed him to overpower courses despite not being the biggest guy out there.

NOTE: Please remember that everyone is different, we all have different limitations and physical capabilities. Before starting any training program, consider your own physical condition and seek medical advice.

Strength

  • Works out 2-3 times per week focusing on compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, and pull-ups to build overall strength and power.
  • Also does single-arm and single-leg exercises to correct muscle imbalances caused by the golf swing. Common moves are single-arm rows, single-leg deadlifts, and lunges.
  • Uses moderate weight for higher reps (8-12) to build muscular endurance.
  • Has focused on building leg strength early on, which provides a solid foundation for power.
Rory McIlroy at the gym

Cardio: Peloton Training

McIlroy’s dedication to Peloton has complemented his golf training by boosting his cardiovascular fitness, maintaining his competitive fire, and providing an efficient workout option while traveling for tournaments. His cycling ability also correlates with the power and athleticism he demonstrates on the golf course. High-intensity interval training that simulates the bursts of energy required during a competitive round of golf is a key part of McIlroy’s cardio training.

  • Rory McIlroy is known as the “Peloton King” on the PGA Tour for his impressive output numbers on the Peloton bike. He routinely puts up stats in the top 0.1% of Peloton riders.
  • His best documented ride was 45 minutes and 955 kilojoules of output, which only 0.001% of riders could match. He later confirmed this ride was him.
  • McIlroy rides the Peloton bike 2-3 times per week as cardio training. He enjoys the competitive leaderboard aspect.
  • Builds lower body strength – The cycling motion engages leg muscles, helping build strength and power that translates to his golf swing.
  • This article gets into the details Rory revealed about his routine in an interview.
  • We have also done a piece on Rowing and how utilizing a rowing machine can provide a full body workout that can help with core strength, cadrio and even balance in the golf swing.
Rory McIlroy on his Peloton
Rory McIlroy on his Peloton

Swing Training

McIlroy is meticulous about his swing training, doing drills like the split hand grip to keep his backswing on plane and get the club in proper positions. He works hard on creating lag in the downswing by feeling like his right arm is straightening which compresses the ball. Hip turn is critical for McIlroy to generate power, so he does drills to get his lower body leading the downswing. Keeping his head still during the downswing is key for McIlroy to make solid contact and launch the ball high. His favorite drill is the split handed pump drill which gets his arms extended early for maximum clubhead speed. Through disciplined swing training like this, McIlroy has become one of the longest and most powerful drivers in professional golf.

Rory mcIlroy at Driving Range

Rory McIlroy’s Favorite Driver Drill

Rory McIlroy’s favorite driver drill is the Split Hand Drill, which develops faster hand speed and proper sequencing for more power. In this drill, McIlroy splits his hands on the grip at address. He makes an aggressive backswing, then slams on the brakes as his hands pass his legs on the downswing.

How it Helps Rory

McIlroy says this drill gets the club in the right positions throughout the swing and creates a great feeling of accelerating into impact. He uses it with every club, not just the driver. The split hand grip helps get the right hand underneath and the left hand on top, which gets his right arm in a great position coming down.

The split hand drill likely contributes to his tremendous speed and power. By hammering this move on the range, McIlroy has ingrained the proper sequencing of accelerating the club into impact. His body rotation, ground forces, and flawless impact position also maximize his distance.

Benefits for the Average Player

The split hand drill helps to elimintate casting, or the over the top move that affects so many aveage players. It also creates width in the backswing and really helps you to shallow out the downswing for improved compression of the golf ball. An additional benefit is that it instantly improves your takeaway if you are guilty of “yanking” the club inside. After working through this drill, I find that this keeps me in posture longer, especially when hitting golf balls with it.

How to Execute

  • Grab a Club: Take a short iron (Rory uses with a driver but does not hit balls)
  • Grip the Club: Separate the hands by taking your normal grip and sliding your bottom hand down towards the end of the grip.
  • Practice Swings: Take slow motion swings, focusing on keeping your trail hand on the inside of your left (assuming a right handed player), eliminating casting, until shaft is parallel with the ground. Then finish up the swing by rotating toward target to complete your downswing.
  • Set Up and Swing: Take that feeling into your normal swing and hit a shot, trying to replicate keeping your trail hand inside and rotating through.
  • Hit Mini Shots: You can even hit mini shots using this split grip to get a feel for the drill.

Training Aids that Can Help You

Tour Striker Smart Ball

All of the training aids on our “Best Swing Training Aids of 2023” can help you improve your swing and increase distance and consistency. McIlroy uses the Tour Striker Smart Ball from that list, as noted in our post on “Ben Hogan, The Connected Swing, and the Tour Striker Smart Ball.” This Golf Digest article highlights his usage before the US Open.

The Stack System

If you want to improve your swing speed, the Stack System is worth considering. This training aid focuses on building strength and flexibility, key components for increasing swing speed. For a more in-depth review, check out our article on golf speed training.

Tips for Using the Stack System

  1. Consistency: Regular practice is essential. Stick to the schedule.
  2. Technique & Warm Up: Focus on proper form to avoid injuries.
  3. Progress Tracking: Use a launch monitor to measure improvements.
Golf Speed Training - The Stack System

Fitness Bikes

As we learned from Rory, fitness bikes, like Peloton and the less expensive Echelon offer interactive training programs that can benefit golfers. The bikes provide cardio exercise to build endurance for walking the course. Strength training classes target the legs, core, and upper body to increase power and flexibility for the golf swing. Features like resistance levels, handlebar adjustments, and clip-in cycling shoes allow riders to customize the workout intensity. Peloton and Echelon bikes give golfers a fun way to improve their cardiovascular fitness, build golf-specific muscles, and boost their mental game through motivational instructors and virtual classes.

Peloton offers a more premium and customizable exercise bike experience but at a higher price point. Echelon provides a budget-friendly alternative with similar interactive workout features. Choose Echelon for affordability or Peloton for a higher-end experience. A few years ago, unsure if I would commit to a routine, I opted for Echelon over Peloton (also at the time there was a wait list for Peloton). For 1-2 rides a week, I found Echelon to be a great option and did not feel like I was missing out on anything. I did eventually cancel my membership and use YouTube content to customize my rides and experiences. Echelon also makes a rowing machine that we discuss in our piece the benefits of rowing on your golf swing.

See this golf.com article for some tips and classes.

peloton
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