Old school of thought

By Rex HoggardSeptember 14, 2011, 8:53 pm

Deep within the bowels of Golf Channel’s Orlando, Fla., headquarters Dave Stockton Sr. paces the floor of a “borrowed” office with an energy well beyond his 69 years.

Did you ever consider using a belly putter?

“No,” he answers, confusion etched across his face by the most ridiculous of questions, “why would I?” With that, the game’s preeminent putting guru – and a self-described “old school” guy – turns his attention back to the 42 ¼-inch model he had the folks at TaylorMade make for him last week.

Strange days, indeed.

The title of Stockton’s new book “Unconscious Putting” tells you all you need to know about the 10-time PGA Tour winner.

To Stockton putting is an art, which would, if reality followed perception, make the use of a longer-than-standard-length putter the competitive equivalent of coloring by numbers. Yet as the two-time major champion tinkers with his new belly putter, rolling ball after ball to an imaginary hole, there is no hiding a genuine curiosity.

Four of the last five PGA Tour events have been won by players using long putters, including Keegan Bradley’s historic long-putter breakthrough at the PGA Championship. Stockton’s star pupil, Phil Mickelson, made headlines, if not hay, two weeks ago when he switched to a belly putter at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

In short, Stockton wanted to see what all the fuss was about. So on his way to Mickelson’s Southern California home last week for a pre-BMW Championship session, he had a belly putter built for him.

Call it field work. Call it experimentation. Whatever you call it, the results have been enlightening and Mickelson’s use of the belly putter was, by any measure, a step in the right directon as far as Stockton is concerned.

“(Mickelson) is only going to get better at doing it. He’s got the eyes, he’s got the feel,” Stockton says. “With it anchored like that you’re only going to repeat (the stroke).”

To be clear, Stockton has no plans to convert to a long putter, nor would he advise one of his students to try one, at least not from the outset. In fact, he’s still not sure the long putter’s use should be legal, at least at the highest level.

“I’m old school. I don’t understand how you can anchor it on your body,” he says. “Nobody can tell me how Sam Snead’s croquet (putting style), where nothing is connected but just because you’re straddling your line is illegal, and then tell me (the belly putter) is legal.”

But then, Stockton quickly points out, he thought metal-headed drivers should be illegal the first time he hit one. “I’ve been wrong before,” he smiles.

Turning back the rules-making clock seems highly unlikely considering the long putter’s recent success, both on Tour and among average golfers. At an Orlando-area Edwin Watts store early Wednesday the shelves were nearly bare of long putters. Even in a “down economy” high handicaps from Tacoma to Tallahassee seem willing to dole out big bucks for a putting fix.

All total there were four belly putters and nine broom-handle models on display at the Edwin Watts, compared to, for example, some 22 left-handed, standard-length Odysseys in the rack under a larger-than-life poster of Mickelson wielding his old short model.

“We can’t keep them in stock,” says a sales associate named Alison. “People don’t really care, belly putter, broom-handle, they just want a long putter. It all started with Keegan.”

For “old school” Stockton, it started long before young Bradley became the first player to win a Grand Slam event with a long putter. For Stockton it started when the U.S. Golf Association failed to act, and now it’s too late.

“The ball is in the USGA’s court, they can’t do anything. They can’t scale back now. You can’t say Freddie (Couples) we don’t want you to use it anymore, Phil we don’t want you to use it anymore,” says Stockton, one of the game’s best putters in his prime whose current list of clients include Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Yani Tseng.

“I told (Mickelson), you were in the middle of the (2009) groove controversy and I know this is going to create a storm,” Stockton says. “He certainly is much more relaxed with it. It just feels good to him.”

When asked if he thought Mickelson would put the belly putter back in play this week at Cog Hill Stockton quickly waves his hand, “Absolutely. I’d be surprised if he uses any other putter the rest of the year,” he says.

With that Stockton turns his attention back to his 42 ¼-inch model, seemingly mesmerized by the mechanical simplicity of it all.

The man who pieced together a potential Hall of Fame career (he’s on this year’s HOF ballot) one 5-footer at a time may be less than enamored with the legality of the belly putter, but there is no denying its benefits. Which prompts one last question: does the belly putter reduce the amount of skill needed to be a good putter?

After a long pause, Stockton echoes a line made in recent months by many a Tour type: “It’s not going to putt it for you, you still have to do it right,” he says before another long pause. “I’m never going to advocate someone starting with one of these.”

Stockton may be open-minded, but “old school” is willing to go only so far.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.