Survey says ... Long putter use down on Tour

By Jason SobelMarch 5, 2013, 2:52 pm

It remains to be seen whether the joint proposal of the U.S. Golf Association and R&A to ban anchored putting will go into effect or whether PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem will get his wish based on a recent recommendation that the proposal be overturned – or whether the game devolves into some sort of bifurcated anarchy with neither party slowing down in their high-stakes game of chicken.

What we have learned is that professionals at the most elite level have already started policing themselves. recently obtained data from the Darrell Survey, which tracks equipment use at every PGA Tour event. While the data only allows for “belly/mid-size” or “long” putters rather than showing exactly how competitors are using these clubs – essentially, whether they are anchoring – it provides enough of a sample size that we can glean some pretty useful information.

And so far the data is telling us that the number of these putters being used on a weekly basis is down from last year. Overwhelmingly down.

Anchored putting: Check out more articles and video

Through the first seven events on this year’s PGA Tour schedule, longer putters were put into play 94 times. That represents a 46 percent decline from 2012, when 175 long putters were implemented during those same seven events.

Broken down, the data shows a decrease at each event: Hyundai Tournament of Champions (from seven to five); Sony Open (24 to 21); Humana Challenge (30 to 18); Farmers Insurance Open (31 to 13); Waste Management Phoenix Open (25 to 11); AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (25 to 10); and Northern Trust Open (33 to 16).

Though the numbers remained largely the same at the Hawaii-based events, there was a dramatic change once the PGA Tour reached California, with double-digit differentials between each of the last two years.

To what do we owe the monumental contrast? It wouldn’t be a reach to draw the conclusion that enough players were simply scared off by the impending ban that they have switched to a more standard putter since last season’s West Coast swing. Whether burdened by the notion of not being able to finish what they started with these clubs or unnerved by the assertion of those, such as Keegan Bradley, who say they’ve been referred to as “cheaters,” there’s been a massive statistical shift that goes beyond any public perception.

Of course, it is also due in part to the fact that many of the players who were competing with the long putters previously – from Mark Anderson to Michael Bradley to Kyle Reifers – are no longer competing full-time on the PGA Tour, which should add further fuel to the already blazing fire that contends the equipment in question doesn’t offer any sort of competitive advantage.

Since this anchored putting debate reared its ugly head – or perhaps more appropriately, its ugly butt end – arguments in places as varied as the ivory towers of the game’s caretakers to local 19th hole establishments have centered on whether the maneuver makes it easier to get the ball into the hole.

The USGA and R&A have maintained that their proposal is about defining the stroke rather than reacting to it providing any advantage, even though three major champions in the past two years have anchored. Meanwhile, that hasn’t stopped important figures on either side of the fence from maintaining that there’s data to enhance their respective arguments.

Finchem, who with the blessings of the policy board and player advisory council recently recommended that the proposal be discontinued, says, “We do not have any data that indicates there is a competitive advantage among players to an anchoring method.”

Conversely, 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, citing a conversation with USGA executive director Mike Davis, claims, “They're convinced the research has shown that under pressure on a Sunday afternoon the long putter just kind of takes one extraneous movement out of the putting stroke.”

Then there’s many like Tiger Woods, who represents the majority when he admits, “I don't know if there's any statistical data on it.”

Using the survey numbers, we can uncover some data to shine a light on this.

According to the company’s putter statistics, only two players in the top 20 in this year’s strokes gained – putting category, the most relevant way of tracking proficient putting, have used longer putters. One is Brian Stuard, who anchors his belly putter. The other is Matt Kuchar, who uses a longer model, but only places the grip against his forearm, a style which will remain legal even if the current proposal holds form.

Let’s further extrapolate the numbers over this season’s first seven tournaments. Of those 94 players who used longer putters, 58 made the cut (61.7 percent, which is slightly higher than the average of those who employed standard putters) and they accounted for nine top-10 finishes (9.6 percent, which is again slightly higher than average).

However, much of that success occurred in Hawaii, which includes one no-cut event. Of the five West Coast stroke-play events in the Lower 48, the 68 instances of longer putters tallied just three top-10s.

In fact, in some events those using a longer putter almost appeared at a disadvantage, at least according to their final results. At Torrey Pines, of the 13 players none finished better than T-27; two weeks later at Pebble Beach, only four of 10 made the cut and only one was inside the top 25.

What does it all mean? When we analyze the data over the first two months of this season, it feels like the rage and ire toward the anchored putting debate is much ado about nothing.

Yes, the game’s governing bodies still must determine whether an anchored putt should be defined as a legal stroke, but any notion that this is greatly affecting the game at its uppermost level has so far been summarily dismissed by the statistics.

If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

You don’t believe it, though.

She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

“In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

“I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

“She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

“She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

“Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

“It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

“No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Tour finals.

“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.

Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''

The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.

''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''

First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).

Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.

''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.

''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''