Minor changes, major results for O'Hair
Thursday, December 24, 2009
WHO ROSE AND WHO PLUMMETED IN 2009?
This week, Golfweek.com will be looking at the players who made significant moves during the past year in the Golfweek/Sagarin Index.
Sean O’Hair: A better swing
Ranking/movement: 22 (+63)
Why the rise? O’Hair attributes his improvement to swing changes made with instructor Sean Foley and equipment changes, particularly to a new driver (TaylorMade R9) and ball (TM Penta). O’Hair jumped from 112th to 66th in total driving from 2008 to ’09 and slightly improved his accuracy and distance. He also improved in greens in regulation, from 113th (64.47 percent) to 27th (67.84 percent). He started working with Foley in July 2008 and almost immediately tied for third at the RBC Canadian Open.
“Someone once told me with the golf swing that if it doesn’t work in the first five minutes, it’s not going to work,” O’Hair said. “It immediately started feeling good and proved itself in competition, so it sold me.”
O’Hair went from a handsy, armsy swing in which he took the club outside and was upright and high at the top. He often got stuck, prompting flips or blocks. Now his backswing is deeper and tighter, with more rotation instead of sliding or swaying.
A slumping O’Hair changed balls to the Penta at the Deutsche Bank Championship in September, and he finished T-8, fourth and third in his next three FedEx Cup playoff starts.
O’Hair says: “I had been struggling the last couple of years finding a driver that I like. . . . My driving stats improved this year (with the R9), which helped my iron play. I’m in the fairways more. When you’re hitting it longer and straighter, you’re going to have more opportunities for birdie.”
– Jeff Rude
Craig Bowden: Go to the press
Ranking/movement: 242 (+323)
Why the rise? It might be a stretch to call it divine intervention, but Bowden’s friend, David “Preach” Wigington, persuaded Bowden to make a tweak in his putting stroke that paid big dividends in the second half of the Nationwide Tour season.
Wigington is the pastor at Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Bloomington, Ind.
“He said, ‘You forward press in your golf swing. Why wouldn’t you with your putter?’ ” Bowden said. “He’s not a teacher by any stretch of the imagination, but he knows
my game pretty well.”
Wigington caddied for Bowden at this year’s U.S. Open, where Bowden putted “atrociously.” They were hitting balls a couple of weeks later at the Indiana University Golf Course when Wigington persuaded Bowden to make the change.
Bowden, 41, the straightest driver on the Nationwide Tour, soon became one of its best putters. He finished second to Michael Sim in putting average (1.726 putts per green in regulation). “It’s the best I’ve ever putted in my life,” Bowden said. “No putt really scares me anymore.”
Bowden tied for seventh at the Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic, his first event after making the change. Of the $198,208 that Bowden earned on this year’s Nationwide Tour, more than $145,000 came after the switch in strokes. Bowden had six top-16 finishes in his final nine starts to move to 22nd on the Nationwide money list and secure a return to the PGA Tour.
In addition to the forward press, Bowden also decided to run his right index finger down the putter shaft and not watch the head of the putter during his backstroke, reducing head movement. Bowden said the forward press helps remove tension from his hands by serving as a “trigger” to start his stroke.
Bowden lives in the same town – Bloomington – as statistics guru Jeff Sagarin, founder of the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index.
“I had to buy him a beer, that’s all,” Bowden joked of his rise in the rankings.
Bowden says: “I actually feel like I’m not just smoke and mirrors, like I’ve got a chance now. I’m really looking forward to a great year next year.”
– Sean Martin
Allison Hanna: Just hit it closer
Ranking/movement: 59 (+137)
Why the rise? Looking at Hanna’s statistics, putting would seem to be her biggest area of improvement. The Ohio State grad finished the season 10th on the LPGA, up 121 spots from the previous year. Hanna, however, has another theory.
“I’ve always been a great putter,” she said. “When you’re playing better and get it closer to the hole, you have fewer putts.”
Two years ago, Hanna decided the only way she was going to be able to compete on the LPGA was to become a better ballstriker. She enlisted the help of Gary Gilchrist and began working with a new trainer and nutritionist. The combination resulted in much-needed distance for the fifth-year player. She now outdrives women who used to hit it 20 yards past her.
A key stretch in May really helped kickstart Hanna’s year. She won a Duramed Futures Tour event May 3, then boarded the last flight out of San Antonio. She hit the pillow after
midnight in Virginia, then went out later that morning and shot 68 to Monday-qualify for the LPGA’s Michelob Ultra Open, where she tied for 15th.
Later that month, she called Gilchrist to see if she could schedule a lesson.
“Aren’t you playing well?” Gilchrist asked. “Then why do you need to see me?”
Good move. Hanna, 27, went on to finish with two more top 25s (T-23, McDonald’s LPGA Championship; T-17, Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic) after not having posted any in 2007 or ’08.
Hanna says: “You’ve just got to put the effort in and trust your abilities. (Gilchrist) is more of a coach in that sense. I can’t think of another professional sport where athletes rely more on instruction.”
– Beth Ann Baldry