Skill, judgment, feel: PGA Tour players adapt without green reading books

Only once in his career has Kevin Na opened these detailed green reading books.

It was last year, on the 17th green at Waialae Country Club, where Na needed a birdie-eagle to shoot 59 in the third round of the Sony Open. Gauging his 10-footer, he glanced at the book, adjusted his reading, made the hit and… missed. He settled for 61 but ultimately won the event.

“It didn’t work out very well,” Na recalled Thursday, “so that was the last time I saw him.”

Of course, Na’s longtime caddy, Kenny Harms, regularly used the book to check his initial reading – or at least he used before the PGA Tour passed the local rule that cracked down on green reading materials.

Thursday’s opening round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions represented the first day of the Tour’s new normal, with players and caddies only allowed to use committee-approved books that provide general track information. and other characteristics. The rule, which came into effect on January 1, was designed to ensure that reading putts was the product of skill, judgment and feel, in addition to quality preparation, not just the equipment provided.

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While handwritten notes are permitted, such information should be limited to observations made on the course or during the tournament telecast. Neither can any device be used to obtain the data.

Most players interviewed after the first round – those who played well early in Kapalua – applauded the decision, which was approved by the PGA Tour Policy Board.

“I’m probably putting my head in it too much,” said Joel Dahmen, who won the Puntacana championship last year. “I don’t use them at home and I putt OK, so there’s no real reason to have them here for me anyway.”

Talor Gooch, the current FedExCup leader, said, “I’m thrilled. I use the green reading books, but I think that was sometimes a disadvantage, and I did my best when I think less, calculate less. I try to be responsive, and so having no green books is ideal for that.

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World No. 2 Collin Morikawa described the abandonment of eco-reading books as “huge”, considering he had used them extensively over the past few years, even while attending college at Cal. Morikawa and Brooks Koepka noted how they used the books to read putts, of course, but also to identify where to land approach shots given the slopes and contours of the green.

The new rule requires the player and caddy to prepare in good faith, with no information transferred from their old books. It remains to be seen how this will be applied. Will a Tour Rules Officer comb through a player’s ratings to confirm their legitimacy? Will a player denounce his peer if he is spotted late in training with a level? Will the first player to stop on the greens, his head buried in his book, immediately attract suspicion?

One thing seems certain: the caddies will be tasked with even more work before the events. Rather than arriving somewhere familiar on Tuesday, maybe they come into town on Monday of this year and start mapping green resorts.

“It’s a little more work for the caddy on Tuesday and Wednesday to haul the inclines and the grain,” Dahmen said.

The player who would seem most affected by the new rule is Bryson DeChambeau. It was his methodical approach to the greens that first drew Koepka’s ire in 2019, and the famously data-driven DeChambeau is known for putting in hours each week with various devices and aids. Although he’s ranked among the top 35 putters on the tour for the past four seasons, DeChambeau’s critics were quick to point out that he still doesn’t have a top 10 at the Masters, the only tournament that doesn’t allow the tournament. use of green books. At the 2020 Masters, he admitted not having the books made things “much more difficult”.

“At the end of the day, I still rely on my intuition most of the time,” he said at the time. “I’m looking at something, ‘OK, I think it looks a bit like this.’ The times I played the best were when my intuition matched reality and what it was actually doing because sometimes (the books) can be wrong.

DeChambeau, who started with a 4-under 69 Thursday in Kapalua, has yet to speak to the media this week.

Some of the best putters on the Tour – guys like Na and Jordan Spieth and Cameron Smith – said they can’t wait to see if they have even more edge on the greens in 2022, after the rules change.

“I think, for me, you have to read it right, you have to put a punch on it, and you have to hit it with the right speed,” Spieth said. “I thought with the eco-reading material it took away one of those three skills, and I think that’s a skill that I would say is a plus for me, and so I’m excited to see this that can mean as many strokes gained relative to the terrain on the greens.

About Marcia G. Hussain

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