BURLINGTON, Iowa – Arkansas junior Austin Cook didn’t switch to a belly putter last spring because it was the hot trend on the PGA Tour. He made the change to improve his game.
Cook saw immediate results in the postseason after making the switch. He shot 59 in his first round with the new flatstick. (Full disclosure: He was playing the forward tees at Arkansas’ home track, Blessings Golf Club.) He finished 14th at the Southeast Regional, then 10th at the NCAA Championship.
“I just did it to help my game,” Cook said. “Seeing other guys use it just reinforced that it was a good decision. It’s like when you get a new car. You think nobody has the same one, then quickly realize a lot of people do, too.”
Cook was one of two Arkansas players to use the belly putter in the team’s victory at the Golfweek Conference Challenge. Cook finished 18th at Spirit Hollow Golf Course. Josh Eure, who switched to the belly putter at the beginning of this season, did even better, finishing as the individual runner-up to lead the Razorbacks.
The long putter used to be a crutch for the senior set, but recent success from younger PGA Tour players such as Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley has the potential to make non-traditional putters as popular with the college set as Cliff’s Notes. So, should we expect to see a rapid rise in the number of belly putters on the college circuit?
“No doubt,” said Arkansas head coach Brad McMakin. “You’re seeing it a lot more on the PGA Tour, and I think the kids see it on TV, so they’re more likely to switch. The pros are doing it, and they’re the best putters in the world. It’s made (putting) easier for a lot of guys.
The belly putter’s growth likely will be gradual, though. Tim Mickelson, head coach at Arizona State, estimates that he saw about five long putters at the recent Fighting Illini/Olympia Fields Invitational. The college season is still early, which means many players interested in switching may still be experimenting with the longer putter. Long Beach State head coach Ryan Ressa said he has already ordered several belly putters this season, though a couple of his players are still tinkering with their new toy.
“I believe the fad will and has already begun,” Ressa said recently. “I have ordered three since the guys got back (to campus) and have talked to many juniors and their parents about the idea.”
Some collegians are taking more drastic measures. Some players are using the broomstick putter, the extra-long wand that is anchored in a player’s sternum. The broomstick once was a last resort even for Champions Tour players. Northwestern senior Eric Chun and Texas sophomore Toni Hakula are among the players using broomsticks, though.
“He went from a guy that couldn’t make our lineup in the fall to being the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year,” Texas head coach John Fields said. Hakula switched putters last November. “He was struggling so badly with the putter. He felt like the long putter was the last resort. The interesting thing is that when you make the switch, it’s such a dramatic change that you forget all that bad mojo you had.”
That’s reason enough for more players to embrace long putters.
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Confident Corbin: Corbin Mills’ success this summer has continued into the college season. Mills, winner of this year’s U.S. Amateur Public Links and Players Amateur, won the Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate in Alabama on Oct. 4 with a 9-under 201 total. Mills started the season with an 11th-place finish at the Carpet Capital Collegiate.
“He’s always been a great striker of the ball,” Clemson head coach Larry Penley said earlier this season. “He’s always had the skills, always the talent. It was just making a few more putts per round.”
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Short shots: UCLA, No. 2 in Golfweek’s preseason rankings, has yet to compete this season as a team. A few Bruins opened their season by competing as individuals at this week’s Firestone Grill Cal Poly Invitational. UCLA junior Pedro Figueiredo won with rounds of 73-71-67 at Monarch Dunes Golf Club in Nipomo, Calif. Freshman Preston Valder finished second, one shot back of his teammate, after rounds of 65-73-74. UCLA opens its season Oct. 10 at the Jack Nicklaus Invitational. The Bruins will be without Patrick Cantlay, who is competing at the PGA Tour’s Frys.Com Open. . . . Several teams withdrew from last month’s Husky Invitational when the first 36 holes were canceled due to rain. Those teams are allowed to replace the competition dates on their calendar. Texas A&M announced it would add the Amelia National Intercollegiate to its schedule. The event, hosted by North Florida and Georgia Southern, will be played Nov. 7-8 at Amelia National Golf and Country Club in Fernandina Beach, Fla., just north of Jacksonville. . . . Iowa State senior Nate McCoy, the Dogwood Invitational champion, won the Rees Jones Invitational by nine shots. Iowa State has had the individual medalist in its past two events. Freshman Scott Fernandez won the VCU Shootout, which McCoy won in 2010.
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A look ahead
What:The Prestige at PGA West
Where: PGA West (Greg Norman Course), La Quinta, Calif.
When: Oct. 9-11
Why it’s important: Stanford, the nation’s No. 1 team, is back in action for the first time since its 16-stroke win at Olympia Fields. Oregon (No. 2 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings), Central Florida (6) and Duke (19) are the other top-25 teams in the field. Oregon began its season with a victory at the St. Mary’s Invitational, and Central Florida has won its first two starts this season. Duke is coming off a victory at its home event, the Rod Myers Invitational.
A look ahead
What: Jack Nicklaus Invitational
Where: Muirfield Village Golf Club, Dublin, Ohio
When: Oct. 10-11
Why it’s important: The 2-year-old event moves to Muirfield Village, which hosts the PGA Tour’s Memorial event. UCLA, No. 2 in Golfweek’s preseason rankings, makes its season debut. Texas, coming off its 20-stroke victory at the Jerry Pate, Oklahoma State, Arkansas and host Ohio State also highlight the field.