2006: Mad science

By Evan Rothman

Craig Bowden already has had three brief stints on the PGA Tour, but he is convinced the fourth time will be the charm – and the smart money may be with him.

Arrow-straight, if not bazooka-long off the tee, his willingness to stick to his guns but still tinker has helped add the necessary scoring to his renowned ballstriking. After 18 years as a pro, Bowden, who is battling for the Nationwide Tour money title, says his moment has arrived.

“I honestly believe in my heart that it’s time for me to win on the PGA Tour,” says the Bloomington, Ind., native. “I know I’ve got the ability, and I’m way more comfortable under the heat than I’ve ever been.”

Bowden, 38, always has been comfortable with a driver in his hands. Though affable and self-effacing, he’s quick to note, “There aren’t five guys in the world that hit the ball as straight as I do.” Bowden ranked No. 4 on the Nationwide Tour in driving accuracy (76.81 percent) heading into the season-ending Tour Championship.

His unusual wide, splayfooted stance and address positioning of every club several inches behind the ball have drawn inevitable comparisons to the legendary straight-shooter Moe Norman. (For a time, Bowden

was even sponsored by Natural Golf, though he and his coach of 15 years, Brian Symonds, point out that Bowden’s technique differs in many ways.) In the bomb-and-gouge era of Gumby-like shoulder turns,

the compact-swinging Bowden has learned to play to his strengths.

“You’ll never catch me swinging more than 90 percent in a tournament,” Bowden says. “A lot of guys have made a lot of money hitting fairways and putting their ball well.”

It’s on the greens, and around them, where the more experimental side of Bowden – with a strong push from his self-described “mad scientist” coach – is exposed. Bowden freely admits to trying almost every putting method known to man, as well as every length flat stick. Last fall, he and Symonds simultaneously concluded it was time to develop a motion reminiscent of Kenny Perry’s, with a locked right arm controlling the stroke and a soft left arm, for starters. The results have been startling, as Bowden ranked second in putting average on the Nationwide Tour.

“There’s not just one way to get the job done,” says Symonds, a former mini-tour player.

If Bowden’s putting stroke is odd, his greenside arsenal of shots is downright freakish. Symonds was a disciple of the noted wedge-play guru and 1944 PGA champion Bob Hamilton, and the creativity Bowden displays – full-swing flops with two fingers off the club that fly 30 feet in the air and 5 feet in length; recoiling sand blasts; a dusted-off T.C. Chen shot called “the lawnmower” – isn’t limited to the practice area. After a month or two perfecting a new, eye-catching shot, Bowden puts it in play without fear.

“Craig has the imagination of (Seve) Ballesteros,” Symonds says. “I give him some ideas, and he’ll run with them. Those kinds of shots let him show his artistic side. And he has amazed a lot of playing partners.”

He is set to amaze pros and fans alike in 2007.

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