CROMWELL, Conn. – To PGA Tour players, a driver or 3-wood can become a part of the family and many are only prompted to change irons when forced by wear and tear.
But a putter, for a surprising number of professionals, is often little more than a rental.
A player’s relationship with their putter is complicated, and it’s exceedingly easy to fall out of love with the shortest club in the bag as evidenced in recent weeks.
Consider that Rory McIlroy spent the better part of two hours on Saturday before his round at the Travelers Championship experimenting with not one, not two, but five different putter models. It speaks to the ease a poor putting round or two can prompt a switch.
McIlroy went with a new model on Day 3 at TPC River Highlands and things didn’t go any better, with the Northern Irishman needing 33 putts on his way to an even-par 70.
At this rate don’t be surprised if McIlroy rolls up for Sunday’s closing round with enough putters to stock the local Edwin Watts.
“I made a decision this week I would give [his old putter] one more week and see how it performed,” McIlroy said on Thursday. “It's nothing to do with the putter. It's mostly what I'm doing with it.”
Most rational players share McIlroy’s sentiment that it’s not the putter that’s the problem, but then a few missed cuts can drive even the most rational types to extremes.
In no particular order, players will dismiss poor putting performances until they can’t, which means they will give it a few weeks under different conditions to work itself out. If that doesn’t work, they’ll double their efforts in practice and introduce new drills to try to rekindle the magic.
If that fails, the last step is almost always an ugly divorce.
“I fall out of love with putters all the time,” Paul Casey laughed. “Having said that, I've always predominantly stayed with the same style of putter for the last decade or so, or longer. I've tinkered with different looks, different finishes, lines on top, no line currently.
“I think there is something to it that the best putters in the world have quite often stayed with putters for extraordinary lengths of time.”
Casey cited some of the game’s best putters to prove his point, from current players like Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker to legends such as Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. Yet when pressed for how long he’s had his current putter in the bag the Englishman shrugged sheepishly, “Yeah, OK, six weeks.”
While the game’s most renowned putters may cherish the long-term relationship, for the vast majority of players it only takes a few missed opportunities to start looking for something new.
To the surprise of many, even one of the game’s best putters can succumb to the notion that a “new look” can help move things back in the right direction. Just last month Jordan Spieth benched his trusty Scotty Cameron for a new model. Although that experiment only lasted one week at the AT&T Byron Nelson, it was proof that no amount of previous success can keep a struggling player from venturing away from a proven combination.
“I’ve been working on the putting, trying to develop a feel that I can use consistently and kind of not have to think about the stroke and setup and instead focus on the line and speed, which I just have not been comfortable doing,” said Spieth, who maintained his lead at the Travelers Championship on Saturday thanks in large part to one of his best putting weeks since he won earlier this year at Pebble Beach.
If Spieth, who has used the same putter since he was a teenager and is widely considered among the game’s best putters, can succumb to a wandering eye in times of stress, what hope do players like Boo Weekley have?
Weekley, who will begin Sunday at the Travelers Championship a shot behind Spieth, has become something of an expert when it comes to the revolving door of new putters.
“I change putters like I change underwear, man. If it don't work, we're putting another pair on. If these are a little too tight, you know, we're changing something, buddy. Something's going to get done,” he laughed when asked how many putters he’s tried this season. “This year I've gone through probably close to about 20. Yeah, that's a lot of washing.”
One of the game’s best ball-strikers, Weekley has never ranked better than 145th in strokes gained: putting since the statistic was introduced in 2004. So it’s little surprise that the three-time Tour winner doesn’t need much prompting to switch to something new or, in this case, something old.
Weekley’s current Odyssey putter was destined for a garbage can at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational last month after Matt Every decided it was time for a change. Weekley’s swing coach, Scott Hamilton, saved the putter from a landfill and thought it might be perfect for his man.
On Saturday at TPC River Highlands it certainly worked, with Weekley needing only 27 putts and gaining 3.261 shots in strokes gained: putting, which is about 4 1/2 shots better than his average this season.
It was a refreshing change for Weekley, but then glory can be short lived for a putter. Sunday will be a new round and there’s always a replacement waiting in the wings.