Just ask Ernie Els, a three-time major winner with two U.S. Open wins.
“Exactly,” he said after posting a 2-under 68 on a day when scores did not stray too far from par 70. “But this golf course if you’ve played many U.S. Opens, this is very much like a U.S. Open.”
Last month at Congressional Country Club, Els hoped to re-capture the magic of his second U.S. Open in 1997, but he failed to make the cut. He also missed the cut at last week’s Open Championship and at The Players Championship in May.
Something clearly has been amiss with Els’ game, so he is again trying a long putter. Oddly, putting used to be a stalwart of his game.
Entering this week, Els ranked 190th — or dead last — in putts per round average (30.85). As recently as 2006 Els ranked as high as 26th with a 28.72 average. Translated over four rounds, Els’ putting woes are contributing roughly eight more strokes per tournament. Els ranks 179th in scoring average (72.38) compared to 23rd in 2006 (70.63).
Put into a better perspective, Els finished tied for 70th at the Honda Classic (16-over-par) and Arnold Palmer Invitational (10-over-par). Take eight stokes off those two finishes and Els finishes in the neighborhood of 50th in both, respectively. Granted, that might not sound like a huge leap, but putting has clearly cost Els some dough.
“For most of my career I was really one of the better putters,” he said. “But last year I started feeling my path of my stroke was screwed up, and I was cutting across the ball. I kind of got to that age, playing under the gun for such a long time that you’re going to feel uncomfortable on some of the shorter putts.
“I was kind of playing with the long putter in practice and then my putts were a lot better with it. I tried to go back to the shorter putter, and I found that I was again cutting the ball a bit. So I just figured, you know, I’ll really try it in competition.
“So from the U.S. Open I’ve been playing with this longer putter, and it’s starting to feel really good.”
How good will ultimately show on the leaderboard.
Stuart Hall is editor of the Golf Press Association.