January 07, 2010
The case for easier courses
When I saw Sergio Garcia using a belly putter at the 2007 British Open, I had a hunch he'd soon win his first major championship. He hasn't yet, but with the belly putter nearby, he's more likely to win one. It's not the belly putter per se; Sergio doesn't always putt well with it, and he used a conventional model to win the Players Championship in May. But the belly putter gives him a Plan B when one of his putters goes sour.Having an option removes a burden from a player's mind and increases the hope of having that one great putting week you need to win. The British Open at Birkdale, where I won in 1976, might give Sergio that chance. It's a course for ball-strikers, and Sergio is better at getting to the greens than performing on them.Of course, the longer Sergio goes without winning a major, the more pressure he puts on his putter regardless of the model. The belly putter might give hope, but it's not yip-proof.
The public's perception of a PGA Tour player's ability isn't shaped strictly by how many tournaments he has won. If the player has charisma, is liked by the media and contends often in major championships, he can leave an impression that is greater than what the record books say.A good example is Tom Lehman, who is rightly considered one of the best players of the past 15 years. Lehman has been highly visible in the big events, finishing in the top six in majors an incredible 10 times. He has won a British Open, played on three Ryder Cup teams and captained another, and I'm sure the average fan perceives Lehman as being a lock for the Hall of Fame. With that, I'm constantly amazed by the fact that Lehman has won only five times on the PGA Tour, whereas David Toms, who most view as comparable, has won 12 times.Lehman is a player (John Daly is another) whose game is so dynamic, you assume he has won more than he has, and you're surprised to learn his trophy case isn't filled with silver.