Putt for dough? Not Colsaerts, who contends anyway

Nicolas Colsaerts during the second round of the 2013 U.S. Open.

Nicolas Colsaerts during the second round of the 2013 U.S. Open.

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Well, we missed Bobby Jones and the Grand Slam by 83 years. Trevino and Nicklaus battled 42 years ago. It’s been 32 years since David Graham won the U.S. Open.

All of that here at Merion Golf Club.

However, modern times has its attractions. There is Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy.

And there is – don’t laugh – the worst putter in golf.

“Drive for show and putt for dough” has never had a better representative than Nicolas Colsaerts. He is called the Belgium Bomber, although Wide Right might be a more suitable nickname.

Colsaerts, a regular on the PGA European Tour, joined the PGA Tour this year and is averaging 304.2 yards off the tee – third in driving distance, just a fraction behind leader Luke List (304.8) and second-place Dustin Johnson (304.7).

Meanwhile, Colsaerts is the worst putter on the Tour among golfers who have enough tournament appearances to be ranked. In the strokes gained/putting category, 183 golfers are listed, and Colsaerts is 183rd.

To repeat, he is the worst putter on the PGA Tour. Imagine ordering a box of business cards with your name along with a slogan underneath: The worst putter in golf.

Yet somehow Colsaerts remains a contender here in the U.S. Open. He shot a 1-under-par 69 during the first round at Merion Golf Club and stayed solidly in the top 10 as second-round play continued into Friday evening.

When his round finally ended at 8:22 p.m., he was 1-over for 36 holes after shooting a 2-over 72. That left him just two strokes behind leader Billy Horschel.

Colsaerts, 30, is improving steadily. “Watch out for this guy,” said Mickelson. “He can really play.”

He played well enough to earn a spot on the 2012 European Ryder Cup team. He played well enough to win the 2011 Volvo China Open and the 2012 Volvo World Match Play Championship.

Joining the PGA Tour was a logical step toward stardom. “I want to be known with the best golfers in the world,” he said. “I want to prove I can compete with all of them.”

For Colsaerts, there might be no tougher place than Merion to prove anything. Merion has been labeled a shotmaker's course where ballstriking and putting and finesse rank far ahead of driving skills on a list of player requirements.

Colsaerts jumped on that one: “People should stop telling (saying) this course is short. First of all, it's a masterpiece of design. Second, there are more pitfalls here than anywhere else. Third, the rough is super penalizing and the greens are glazing fast. Fourth, the conditions are continually changing because of the winds and the rain. You need to adapt your feelings on how the greens and the ball will react. Finally, there is the softness of the greens and fairways. High-clubhead-speed players, like myself, need to assess the spin, and this is very difficult to control.

“So Merion has so many weapons to defend its pars. It’s a real tough challenge.”

How can the worst putter on the Tour challenge for the U.S. Open title on greens that measure 13 to 13.5 feet on the Stimpmeter? There are two possible answers here:

  1. He is putting better after extensive work with his swing coach, Michel Vanmeerbeek. In the first round here at Merion, he hit 11 greens in regulation and totaled 28 putts. Meanwhile, his driving distance average was 298.5 yards.

  2. The greens are so tough that few golfers are making many putts. This tends to equalize the field and benefit the solid ballstrikers who are not flashy putters.

Perhaps his success is a combination of the two. Regardless, it is fun to watch the Belgian play. He is tall, thin and a cool customer. He loves music almost as much as golf (mostly danceable “deep house” music with complex melody).

Can a poor putter win the U.S. Open? Two words: Orville Moody.

Keep an eye on Colsaerts. He might not win the U.S. Open, but he is determined to be among the leaders.

The worst putter in golf coulda been a contender. He coulda been somebody. Heck, he is a contender. He is a genuine long-hitting somebody.

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