To switch or not to switch? Putter always in question

By Rex HoggardJune 25, 2017, 1:05 am

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.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

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.

McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 2:21 pm

When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.

Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.

Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.

While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.

Rahm wins finale, Fleetwood takes Race to Dubai

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 1:42 pm

Jon Rahm captured the final tournament on the European Tour calendar, a result that helped Tommy Fleetwood take home the season-long Race to Dubai title.

Rahm shot a final-round 67 to finish two shots clear of Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Shane Lowry at the DP World Tour Championship. It's the second European Tour win of the year for the Spaniard, who also captured the Irish Open and won on the PGA Tour in January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

"I could not be more proud of what I've done this week," Rahm told reporters. "Having the weekend that I've had, actually shooting 12 under on the last 36 holes, bogey-free round today, it's really special."

But the key finish came from Justin Rose, who held the 54-hole lead in Dubai but dropped back into a tie for fourth after closing with a 70. Rose entered the week as one of only three players who could win the Race to Dubai, along with Sergio Garcia and Fleetwood, who started with a lead of around 250,000 Euros.

DP World Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the DP World Tour Championship

With Fleetwood in the middle of the tournament pack, ultimately tying for 21st after a final-round 74, the door was open for Rose to capture the title thanks to a late charge despite playing in half the events that Fleetwood did. Rose captured both the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open, and was one round away from a two-trophy photo shoot in Dubai.

Instead, his T-4 finish meant he came up just short, as Fleetwood won the season-long race by 58,821 Euros.

The title caps a remarkable season for Fleetwood, who won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship as well as the French Open to go along with a pair of runner-up finishes and a fourth-place showing at the U.S. Open.

"I find it amazing, the season starts in November, December and you get to here and you're watching the last shot of the season to decide who wins the Race to Dubai," Fleetwood said at the trophy ceremony. "But yeah, very special and something we didn't really aim for at the start of the year, but it's happened."

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”