For Barclays champion Nick Watney it may have been a putting tip from Darrell Kestner, the director of golf at New York’s Deepdale Golf Club, that lifted him to his first playoff victory on Sunday, but the seeds for his Bethpage breakthrough were planted long before that impromptu lesson.
After posting just a single top-10 finish in his first 10 starts this season things started to turn around for Watney at the AT&T National, where he finished 10th.
“He just wasn’t giving himself enough (birdie) opportunities,” said Dr. Morris Pickens, Watney’s sports psychologist. “He wasn’t clear enough as far as in terms of direction. It was kind of the same thing as the putting. He and Butch (Harmon) just weren’t hitting on everything earlier in the year and to be fair, (Watney) was caught up with how good last year was and was trying to match that.”
Statistically, Watney was nearly flawless at Bethpage. He finished 17th in strokes-gained putting (he is 228th in that category for the season) thanks to a tie for second in greens in regulation and third in approach shot distance to the pin.
On Wednesday Watney told Pickens his plan for the week was to be “slow off the ball,” a reference to an almost languid backswing. After Watney struggled on Saturday, (71) Pickens said the two talked early Sunday and he reiterated the message.
“On Saturday he got a little fast,” Pickens said. “If he’s slow off the ball he has good patience and good width at the top.”
The result was Tour title No. 5 for Watney and No. 2 for Pickens at Bethpage.
“Bethpage has been good to me. I’ve got to go back there soon,” said Pickens, who also works with Lucas Glover, the 2009 U.S. Open winner at Bethpage.
Good news for Pickens, and his clients, The Barclays is scheduled to return to the Black Course in 2016.