Golf is about talent, and professional golf is about talent in abundance. It’s also about self-assurance, and perhaps in larger measure. Certainly, confidence — or, to be more precise — the absence thereof, is why players change equipment. When they lose their mojo on the course, their thought process invariably leads them to making any and all modifications to the status quo, with the brunt of their attention focused on the sticks in their bag.
And so that’s how Tiger Woods arrived on the first tee at the Quicken Loans National over the weekend. Having had results that could, at best, be described as mixed since he returned to competitive play following a fourth back surgery, he showed up with a new putter and tons of hope it would finally allow him to maximize the strides he had made with his driver and irons. No doubt, the decision was made with a heavy heart; the Scotty Cameron Newport 2 was in his hands when he claimed the last 13 of his 14 major championships.
If nothing else, Woods’ willingness to part with an all-time favorite spoke volumes of what he thought about his immediate past work on the greens. Statistics supported his frustrations, too; he had been among the tour’s laggards when it came to “Strokes Gained — Putting.” And his mind-set wasn’t just to change the hardware. He moved to adjust his form as well, going for the mallet-style TaylorMade Ardmore 3; the break in tradition was clear.
So far, Woods has reason to deem the move at least a moderate success. After completing the first round with a putting performance that ranked 100th out of the 120 on the field, he improved remarkably; he needed just 26 and 27 swings on the greens in the second and third rounds, respectively. How he will fare on the bentgrass at the TPC Potomac today remains to be seen, but he can’t complain with his progress so far. As he noted after a penultimate-18 68 that could actually have been much better, “I’ve felt good with my putter all week.”
Of course, it’s also “feel” that will have Woods going to his familiar flatstick anew sooner rather than later. Even Clay Long, who designed the Ardmore 3, concedes it as inevitable. “If you have a relationship with a putter, a good relationship with a specific putter, you’re always prone to pick it back up,” he said in an interview with USA Today. And he’s right. After all, it isn’t just any other flatstick. It’s a heavily customized one made from German Stainless Steel and with a Ping PP58 grip.
For Long, the key is to regain the swagger. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, it has nothing to do with the putter itself. A lot of times you will switch to a different style putter or a putter with a different sight line to just give you something to look at. And sometimes that kind of straightens out your alignment, or whatever it is that’s wrong with your putting, and sometimes you go back to your old putter once you get confident and your stroke gets where you’re hitting in on line.”
For Woods, though, first things first. He’s ninth and six strokes behind the pace in a birdie haven. To claim his first victory in five years, he will most definitely have to make his putter work — or, rather, work less. That he believes he can at this point is a step in the right direction.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.