It was never coincidence that multimillion-dollar equipment deals involving Tiger Woods had no detail about putters. Rough calculations suggest the Scotty Cameron Newport that Woods had in play between 1999 and 2010 was key to $100m in prize money alongside 14 major titles. “I always travel with it,” says Woods of the wand in question. No wonder. If not, he would be entitled to frame it.
Someone of Woods’s standing doesn’t tinker with clubs lightly. This is what makes a change of putter for the US PGA Championship more notable than it would be for virtually any other player in the field. Rory McIlroy threw a fresh set of irons into his bag at a recent PGA Tour stop and the world’s best players – Brooks Koepka is a key exception here – switch drivers whenever their paymasters want to entice amateurs towards a new model. Woods’s longevity has been matched by a reliance on pretty much an identical feel on the greens. He has experimented with Nike and TaylorMade releases but, typically, returned to something approaching what he knows.
“There’s something familiar with my other one,” Woods adds. “I’ve won a few events with it. But every now and again, it needs to be benched and this was a good week for it.
“Even my first one I won the Masters with in ‘97 was slightly longer than the one I’ve been using all these years. I went to a little bit shorter putter at the time to let my arms hang in ‘99, and I had a nice little run there in ‘99, 2000, and kept that length for pretty much my entire career.”
Now, Woods thinks he has landed upon something. He spoke during pre-tournament interviews at Harding Park about changes delivering positive results during practice sessions at home in Florida. Typically, Woods wouldn’t divulge the nature of these but deployment of a longer Scotty Cameron putter – thought to be just an inch more than usual – was eventually deduced by the watching world. Woods explained after round one, where he holed a combined 115ft from 28 putts, that ability to perform drills at home was the motivating factor.
“I’ve been messing around with this putter for the better part of over a year,” says Woods. “Rob [McNamara, Woods’s close friend] and I have been talking about it. You know, it’s difficult for me to bend over at times, and so practising putting, I don’t spend the hours I used to. It wasn’t unusual for me to spend four, five, six hours putting, per day. I certainly can’t log that now with my back being fused.
“Most of the guys on the Champions Tour have gone to longer putters as they have gotten older, because it’s easier to bend over, or not bend over. And so this putter is just a little bit longer and I’ve been able to spend a little bit more time putting.
“It’s also very similar to my sand wedge. I putt with my sand wedge all the time at home. I like the feel in my right hand. I like blading putts and hitting the ball in the equator. I felt like I was able to spend the time putting again, and felt like I was able to get ready for this event.”
Not many golfers see putting improve with age. Woods’s iron play remains arguably the finest in golf, meaning even retaining some of his earlier ruthlessness with putter in hand should deliver fine results. If it doesn’t, an old favourite will never be far from his grasp.
Bryson DeChambeau’s putting hasn’t claimed much focus, understandably. The Californian’s 2020 resumption has seen all manner of power records broken, with swing speeds frequently touching 200mph. It was perhaps no surprise, then, to see the head snap off DeChambeau’s driver during the US PGA even if the circumstances were beyond predictions. The club snapped as the 26-year-old leaned on it when picking up a tee. Because the incident wasn’t a fit of pique – of which DeChambeau is no stranger – he was allowed to replace the club mid-round. “It’s wear and tear,” said DeChambeau. Even the most robust tools are entitled to give up sometimes.