Colin Byrne: Pros generally prefer a putter on the green

Robert Streb sank some fine putts with his 56-degree wedge to reach Sunday’s play-off

Robert Streb ‘putts’ with his 56-degree wedge on the 17th during the final round of the Greenbrier Classic. Photograph: Darren Carroll/Getty Images

Robert Streb ‘putts’ with his 56-degree wedge on the 17th during the final round of the Greenbrier Classic. Photograph: Darren Carroll/Getty Images

 

They say it all begins on the back nine in the final round of a golf championship. That’s when every shot really counts. It’s when your palms get sweaty, your heart starts pumping faster and you can hear your foot crunching on the fairways beneath you as your heightened awareness has you charged with an acute sense of everything that matters.

So what do you do when you are trying to win your second PGA tournament and you miss a putt you feel you should have made on the ninth hole? Worse than that, you toss your Scotty Cameron putter a little more fervently than you wanted to at the bag and it takes a funny bounce and ends up snapping in two on impact?

Oh, no, what do you do now? All the hours, days, weeks and months of putting practice with a flat stick with one or two degrees of loft and now you have to play the back nine putting with any of the other 13 clubs in the bag. Its almost like penalties in soccer after two hours of regular play. It’s down to a situation that is out of routine for even the most finely tuned sportspeople. Soccer players, in general, spend little time practising the dead ball situation under pressure. So when the scenario arises, you are something of a novice.

Robert Streb could have asked Shane Lowry how to putt with a sand wedge after he experienced a similar situation in the second round of the Irish Open this year. His putter had suffered a well deserved thrashing, I’m sure, early on in his round and he had to resort to the alternative in order to make the cut.

I have often said these great players could get the ball in the hole with an umbrella if they were in form, such is the deftness of their touch. This naturally is not the angle that the putter manufacturers would take in their marketing campaigns.

The energy and application that go into choosing a putter are astounding. Ask regular tour players how many putters they have and the average answer will be bags full. All very similar but subtly different; some with softer inserts, more yielding metal, face balance, heel balance, thin leading edges, flatter, more upright, unusual colours and with a different girl’s name. The list goes on but it is now a rare thing that a putter stays in a tour player’s bag for any great length of time; they are always on a very short-term contract but should be readily available for use if their master decides they are in favour again.

Second Captains

Then, when the special flat-stick is chosen, there are the putting aides and devices that the gurus have invented and peddled in order to make these one-putt wonders hole even more putts.

So what are your chances of mounting a serious charge on the back nine on a Sunday without your painstakingly selected “magic wand”? Pretty good by the looks of Streb’s back nine at the Greenbrier Classic in West Virginia last week.

Club selection

So what club should a player use when his putter is out of commission? Ben Crenshaw used his three iron in the 1987 Ryder Cup against Eamonn Darcy in the singles at Muirfield Village. He holed a few putts but still lost. It is hard to argue with one of the greatest putters of all time about his alternative putter selection.

Streb’s porter advised his man that the 56-degree wedge was the club for the ‘stand-in’ job at the Greenbrier Classic. His reasoning was that the straighter leading edge would make it easier to strike the ball halfway up and get it rolling straighter towards the hole with top spin.

Given that the sand wedge should fly high in the air with tooth-sucking back spin, the choice would seem a little confusing. With more than 50 degrees more angle on your replacement putter, how could a serious contender possibly compete?

Very well, seemingly. With birdies on 10, 11, 13, 16 and 18 with his unconventional 56-degree putting wedge, Streb got into a play-off.

Unfortunately he had a replacement putter in his locker which he reverted to for the play-off. But he never got to use it because he missed the green on the first play-off hole. It should have presented some dilemma as he warmed up for the play-off, but it didn’t; he opted immediately for the replacement, which was legally permitted because the round where the breakage occurred was over.

Reduced expectation

There is a Buddhist term that says you should reserve judgment when it comes to assessing if something that happened was good luck or bad luck. Such as breaking your putter in the final round of a tournament with nine holes to go. It wasn’t the fairytale finish, but a play-off for Streb without a flat-stick is very impressive.

Now how would the putter manufacturers have dealt with a pro making a mockery of their highly engineered devices with a 56-degree wedge? If they are in form, these top professionals could hole it with the flag-stick if they had to. Thankfully for the putting gurus, they usually don’t have to.

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