Players join a growing club of putter swappers on Tour

Frequently changing short stick has become trend among fickle pros

November 15, 2005|By ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION

ATLANTA -- Billy Mayfair stuck his head in a barrel and found peace.

All it cost him was $25.

He was willing to pay any price to forget the 81 he put up in the third round in Greensboro, N.C., a year ago. In his search for blame, Mayfair found it - his putter.

In his search for answers, Mayfair went fishing in that barrel.

"Outside Forest Oaks there is this guy who has been there forever with a barrel full of clubs," he said. "I said I'm going to try the belly putter. There was one left."

That was just what Mayfair needed to keep his one last strand of sanity.

And it helped out quite nicely with the mortgage as well. Mayfair, who was 140th on the money list at the time, strolled into the Tour Championship two weeks ago at 20th.

"Hey, if you have confidence in it you can putt with a broomstick out here," said Mayfair.

Don't know if Fred Funk has tried that. But no doubt he's thought about it.

"I used four different putters in four days in Vegas," said Funk, a former Maryland coach.

"I don't even know what grip I'm using, let alone what putter I'm using."

The marriage between player and putter is tenuous, tumultuous and more often than not temporary.

"We're fickle with the putters," said PGA pro Kenny Perry.

Consider this: Perry just started to use the new TaylorMade Rossa and has made nine cuts in nine tournaments with it. But squirreled away in the back of his locker is another putter. Why keep it?

"I can give you about 12 million reasons why I've stuck with that one," said Perry. "That is always with me wherever I go."

For some, the attachment is not so irrational. In fact, it's personal. Some are more temperamental.

"The putter is the one club we want to love and the one we end up wanting to get rid of," said Noah Liberman, who is at work on a book called The Flat Stick: The Romance, History and Heartbreak of the Putter. "A player will focus all this angst and confusion onto this one stick.

"And then the club maker knows this and keeps coming out with new and better technology and it plays right into our neurosis," he added.

Talk about your vicious cycles.

"A quarter of the field changes putters every week," said Mike Neal, a PGA Tour representative for STX putters.

So let's make that never-ending vicious cycles.

Here is how insidious this paradoxical putter-player relationship is:

Here's Sean O'Hair talking about his new Rossa putter.

"It's made me a lot of money and I'm not going to be changing it anytime soon," he said.

Here's O'Hair two minutes later on the same putter:

"If it starts putting [poorly], then I'm going to throw it in the closet."

Somewhere Sigmund Freud is screaming ARRGGHH. It's all mind over matter.

"The battle within is the biggest opponent," said Dr. Gregory Dale, a expert in human performance and sport psychology at Duke. "If they weren't so quick to jump ship [on their putter], it would be a whole lot better."

The theory being if it was good once, it eventually will become good again. But rational thinking has gone the way of the mashie in golf.

In a reflection of society, golf is all about the quick fix. Which is why players might sneak a peak in someone else's bag every so often.

"Driver- and putter-wise someone is always looking in someone else's bag," Mayfair said. "Especially the putter. If someone is out there and he switches the putter and he starts having a real good year and wins a tournament, there is a good chance someone might try that putter the next week."

There is also a good chance if that putter loses him the tournament it will end up in the attic.

"I just gave away 176 of the ugliest putters you have ever seen," Funk said.

Of course, not everybody is so quick to flee his flat stick. Ben Crenshaw used Little Ben, a Wilson 8802 blade, for a quarter-century.

The connection was so strong even after Little Ben was stolen from his car, an APB was put out on the club. It was found three weeks later in a liquor store parking lot outside Austin, Texas.

Similarly, Jack Nicklaus was recently reunited with the putter he used to win the 1967 U.S. Open.

When he saw it: "Immediately, I knew it was `White Fang,'" Nicklaus told the USGA. "I probably hadn't seen it for 15 years."

Some people can't recognize their kids after 15 years let alone some piece of forged metal. The attachment, in some cases, is just that strong.

In others, well, it's whatever works. This week.

"It's the nature of the game," Funk said. "It's the club that finishes off the hole, and when it's working it's great and when it's not you're like, `What's the deal here?'"

It's more like Let's Make a Deal for the tour pros. Except they get to peek behind every curtain and pick the putter they want.

"It's all touch and feel and optics," Perry said. "If it looks good and feels good to you, you are going to make some putts with it."

Even if it did come from a barrel.

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