Rory McIlroy knows better sleep can lead to better golf

More and more players making use of technology to measure their body’s recovery

Rory McIlroy with his Whoop wristband on during a practice day ahead of the Ryder Cup. Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy with his Whoop wristband on during a practice day ahead of the Ryder Cup. Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

 

In the background, or rather more precisely, on their arms, a whole different ball game is in play for a number of the players involved in battling for the Ryder Cup this week.

Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas are on opposing sides here at Whistling Straits but the two golfers share a common interest in measuring their Whoop metrics in getting their physical health to improve their games.

Interestingly, new data - based on the final tournaments of their season, which took in the British Open, the Olympics and up to the Tour Championship - shows the importance of sleep in delivering good rounds.

In McIlroy’s case, he shot a final round 66 in the WGC-Fed Ex St Jude after 7.6 hours sleep (compared to a tournament average of 6.6 hours) while his best round of that closing stretch of events came with an eight-under par 64 on the opening day of the BMW Championship where he had an 81 per cent recovery that morning with an elevated Heart Rate Variability (HRV) of 60, seven milliseconds above his norm during tournaments.

The analytics also revealed a distinct connection between McIlroy’s lowest golf scores and his highest Whoop recoveries and HRV: his average recovery improved from 60 per cent to 67 per cent on the days he played his best, while his average HRV increased from 53 to 56.

For Thomas, his best round of the year - a 63 in the first round of the Northern Trust - was delivered after a 94 percent sleep efficiency (against a competitive average of 92) that included 3.19 hours of REM sleep, 17 minutes more than usual.

The health monitoring app tracks metrics like heart rate variability (HRV), respiratory rate, sleep staging, and cardiovascular load to provide insights around recovery, strain and sleep. HRV measures the variance between heart beats to show if the body is ready to perform at optimal levels.

Refreshed

“I started wearing Whoop because I just wanted to know more about my body and myself and how I recover, I just wanted to optimise what I do. In this day and age in golf, with the technology that’s out there, everyone is closer together. The difference between the number one ranked player in the world and number 100 is actually pretty small. I want to do everything I possibly can to get an advantage,” explained McIlroy of his conversion to the health app. McIlroy comes in refreshed after putting his clubs away (competitively) following the Tour Championship at the start of the month.

So, what of this week? The data shows Thomas is getting higher quality sleep in recent weeks, averaging two hours of deep sleep per night compared to 1.8 in August and his nightly REM has gone up too, from 34 percent to 39.

For McIlroy, in addition to averaging more sleep (7.6 hours per night versus 6.7 in August), his daily recovery (from 65 per cent to 68 per cent) and HRV (55 to 57) are also on the rise.

And, inside the past two weeks, both Thomas and McIlroy have recorded season’s best figures in different categories indicating their physical wellbeing: Thomas recorded a 99 per cent recovery rate and also his longest night’s sleep, registering in at nine hours and 18 minutes; McIlroy had his lowest resting heart rate (RHR) of 45 and also his most efficient sleep (96 per cent).

The metrics would point to both having good Ryder Cups.

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