The most amazing statistic from yesterday's PGA Tour event, the Transitions Championship on Innisbrook's demanding Copperhead Course, was that Gary Woodland holed 17 out of 17 putts from 20 feet or less in the final round. Did we hear that correctly? Nobody makes 17 of 17 from that length. But Woodland did, including a 16-footer on 17 for birdie and an 11-footer on 18 for the par that clenched his first tour win when Webb Simpson made bogey a few minutes later.
A discussion today with Woodland's coach, Golf Digest Teaching Professional Randy Smith (see their driving article) revealed that the secret to his greatly improved putting was not really a change in Gary's technique. Rather, it was a change in his approach, brought on by the influence of Brad Faxon, who long has been regarded as one of the tour's premier putters.
Says Smith: "About nine or 10 months ago, Gary played a practice round with Brad. He couldn't believe how many putts Brad made. So I encouraged Gary to go talk to him about putting. I told him not to be shy, to get in there and pick his brain."
Faxon told Woodland that his mechanics were solid. The only thing he
recommended regarding his stroke was to speed it up a bit (he was taking the putter back too slowly, which threw off the momentum of his forward stroke). He wanted Gary to have more of a pop stroke. Brad had him focus on taking the putter back and through the same distance by placing two tees in the green on the line of the putt, marking his backswing and through swing. The putter had to hit one tee going back, the other going through.
Then Faxon had Woodland do a Three-balls Drill. Starting from about four feet away from a hole on the practice green, Brad told Gary to make the first putt so it fell in from the left side of the cup, the second from the right side and the third from the middle. Then he said to move back to six feet and do the same drill, then eight feet, then 10.
"Brad was getting Gary to think about the speed," Smith says. "If you try to make putts drop from the edges, you have to get the speed right." Smith says that Gary already had a solid stroke mechanically. It had been analyzed by Scotty Cameron, and he knew he had a good arc and face angle. "Brad got him to think about feel." Smith says. "His putting has been improving for the past nine months. It's been getting better and better."
But this is more than "better and better." At the Transitions, Woodland was second in overall putting for the tournament, and in the final round his putting was about as good as it gets.
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(Photo by Associated Press)