December 1, 2008

MIA on the green

Putting woes haunt Durant

LA QUINTA, Calif. -- Even as courses begin to close within a quarter-mile of 8,000 yards, golf remains more a short game than a long game, to which Joe Durant’s statistics will attest.

In 2008, Durant led the PGA Tour in greens in regulation (71.10 percent) and was eighth in driving accuracy (73.05 percent), numbers that should portend success. So what is he doing returning to Q School for the first time in 15 years?

It came down to the shortest of his 14 clubs. Durant was 196th on the tour in putting, speaking truth to the notion that it's the baton that determines whether one is making music or making noise.

"My putting had been horrible," Durant said Friday afternoon, following a round of seven-under par 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course that suggested that is no longer the case. A friend took a look at his set up and determined that his hands were set behind the ball at address. "We made a couple of changes in my setup and I’ve been rolling it pretty good since."

At the halfway point, Durant is tied for 11th, four shots from the lead and grateful he chose to come here rather than taking what his status as a past champion who finished 129th on the money list would get him by way of starts in 2009.

"I wanted to come out here and play well and improve my position and play some golf in December instead of being at home, laying on the couch and twiddling my thumbs," he said. "I didn't feel I had the kind of year that I could afford to do that.

"It's one of those situations where you had all year to take care of business and I didn’t. So it's disappointing, but I tried to look at it as a positive. I feel like my game's better and this was a chance to come out and play some good courses and work on my game in some really trying conditions. I’m using this to get me going for '09. I’m just happy to be playing better."

The fact was Durant, a winner of four PGA Tour events, was dissatisfied with every aspect of his game, notwithstanding his glossy ball-striking statistics.

"My stats were very good, but my proximity to the hole was not very good," he said. "I saw (instructor) Jim Hardy in San Antonio and he saw some things in my swing that he didn't like and we’ve been working on them. I've been working hard on my long game. My par 3s and par 4s, I was hitting a lot of greens, but not necessarily hitting it close to the hole. So I'd have 30 footers and was rolling it three feet past and missing."

It was the second consecutive year, incidentally, that he finished 129th on the money list, which was unacceptable for a man who has banked nearly $12 million in earnings in 13 years.

"I’ve played bad for two years and that's disappointing," he said. "It's been frustrating. I'm probably working harder now than I ever have and I think I'm starting to see some signs of life."

It hasn't hurt, either, that Durant has some history at PGA West. In 2001, he won the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic on the nearby Arnold Palmer Course, shooting a tournament record 324, 36-under par.

"I just love being in the desert," he said. "This brings back a lot of good memories."