DUBLIN, Ohio -- Putting can be so perplexing, even though it is seemingly the simplest part of the game. Everyone can stroke a putt on a green, right? But few can hit 330-yard tee shots and make it look routine.
Of course, putting is not easy, certainly not at the professional level, on sometimes deviously-difficult greens with all manner of grasses, slopes, undulations and pitches. Not to mention the pressure that comes with tournament golf.
But it still has to be maddeningly frustrating to those who can hit the longest shots with relative comfort but deal with so much angst on the greens.
Case in point: Rory McIlroy.
The No. 3-ranked player is coming off a victory on May 22 at the Irish Open. And yet just two weeks before the start of the U.S. Open, he has reverted to a conventional putting grip after going the left-hand-low (or cross-handed) route for most of the spring. McIlroy opened the Memorial Tournament with a 71 at Muirfield Village Golf Club including 29 putts.
It was the 127 putts he took -- never once breaking 30 putts for any round -- at the K Club that convinced him to make the switch. Coming into the Memorial, McIlroy ranked 122nd on the PGA Tour in the strokes-gained putting statistic.
"I had a really good ball-striking week,'' McIlroy said of his European Tour victory in Ireland. "I hit a lot of fairways and made a lot of greens, and that's what made that tournament. Any other week, you're not going to be doing too well (with so many putts).
"I feel like my pace was a little off left hand low, and I feel like coming into golf courses like here where the greens are really quick, and obviously Oakmont (for the U.S. Open) where the greens are ridiculous fast, I felt like to give myself the best chance of having a little bit more feel and a little bit more visualization. I just needed to go back to what I've done for most of my career.''
It is an interesting move just a few weeks prior to the U.S. Open. But it was an interesting move when McIlroy went left-hand-low in early March at the WGC Cadillac Championship, just a month prior to the Masters.
The feeling at the time was McIlroy's move was borne out of frustration and perhaps desperation. This one doesn't seem so drastic, given that it is the style McIlroy has employed the most. He ended up going left-hand-low for seven tournaments.
And yet it still required some work.
"It felt sort of weird for the first 30 minutes,'' he said. "I started messing around with it on Friday, and then Saturday felt a little better. Sunday felt a little better. It feels normal. But left-hand-low 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.
"And that's why I'm using the line on the ball again ... because sometimes I don't feel like the line is aiming where it actually is.''
McIlroy said he's been practicing in front of a mirror, trying to work on ball position, eye position. This is the No. 3 player in the world fretting like this?
Meanwhile, Jordan Spieth, who shot 70, one-putted his first seven greens on Thursday, needed just 11 for the back nine and 26 overall. "It's impressive, yeah,'' said McIlroy, who played with Spieth.
"No one shot is more important than the other,'' he said. "A shot is a shot, whether it's a putt or a drive. They're all important. We get it done different ways, but we get it done.''
And yet, how deflating is it to hit the ball beautifully and make nothing? It can be just as frustrating as a poor ball striking round.
"With me, it has everything to do with the putter,'' said Dustin Johnson, who opened the tournament with a 64 and needed just 25 putts. "I rolled it well today and even throughout the year, the days I putt well, I play well.''
The problem with poor putting is it so often filters into other parts of the game. If you're missing putts, you try to hit it closer so the putts are not as long. In trying to hit it closer, you put pressure on your iron game. Which in turn puts pressure on the driving game, because to hit it close, you need to hit it farther and make sure you're in the fairway, etc. And on and on it goes.
"For me, the margins in putting are so fine,'' McIlroy said. "The difference for me in having a good putting day and a bad putting day is very, very small. A fairway is 30 yards wide. I mean, you can fit a million golf balls in a row that width of the fairway, where in putting it's just a little bit finer than that.
"It's a mental thing for me as well. But I definitely feel like I'm on the right track. Hopefully I can continue to stick with it and see improvement.''
Given the treacherous greens he is about to face at Oakmont for the U.S. Open, McIlroy should have some pretty solid feedback.