KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — It looked like an act of desperation last year when Retief Goosen, whose pure stroke brought him a pair of U.S. Open titles, switched to the belly putter at the start of the season.
He eventually ditched it for the conventional putter and went on to win at Innisbrook, pick up 10 finishes in the top 10 and restore his name among the top 20 in the world ranking.
So why was the belly putter back in his bag when he teed off Thursday in the SBS Championship?
The bigger question is how long it will stay there.
Goosen believes the belly putter helped to get him pointed in the right direction early last year, so he figured he would at least start out the season doing the same thing.
“It’s a good training device,” he said.
He messed around with it in South Africa and said he would keep it in play at least through the Hawaii swing, and possibly through a West Coast schedule that will include Pebble Beach and then Match Play.
“If I do well with it, who knows? Maybe I’ll keep it in there longer,” Goosen said.
His goal for the year is to “put my name up there in majors,” and that was one area he was lacking the last few years. Dating to his first major at the 2001 U.S. Open, Goosen went consecutive years without a top three in the majors for the first time. His best was a tie for fifth at the British Open, where he started the final round two shots out of the lead.
CINK AND THE JUG: Stewart Cink has received honorary membership at four golf clubs in the Atlanta area, and he found a gracious way to show his appreciation.
All four are getting a turn displaying the claret jug he won at the British Open.
The jug has been at the TPC Sugarloaf since Thanksgiving, although Cink is an automatic member there as a PGA Tour member. He already has lent it to East Lake Golf Club. Still on the list is The River Club and Berkeley Hills Country club.
“At some point between last year and next year, all four will have a chance to display the jug for a while,” Cink said.
MAUI REGULARS: Stephen Ames and Rory Sabbatini are back on Maui, which is a little misleading. Even if they had not qualified for the SBS Championship, they would have been here.
Both have been coming to this side of the island for the Christmas holidays for the last several years.
Ames has a timeshare down the coast at Kaanapali, while Sabbatini stays with his family at Kapalua. The South African earned high marks from the staff for his willingness to play with members or resort guests during his vacation.
“I’ll play with anyone,” Sabbatini said. “It’s all good by me.”
Ames arrived on Dec. 16 and played golf only four times before getting into practice mode for the year. And the only reason he played was because of the group of friends he brought down from Calgary.
“It’s a bit of a bonus for being here – or playing, I should say,” he said. “The hardest thing was Monday morning putting on a pair of trousers because I’ve been in shorts and a swimsuit all this time. So it’s been tough.”
Ames turns 46 this year, although he was only joking when he said he already was thinking about retirement. He plans to continue playing well into his Champions Tour career.
But he wasn’t kidding about retiring to Maui.
“We are looking for a family place here,” he said. “This is where we are going to retire – four months here, the other eight months playing golf and being in Calgary.”
It makes sense. Ames grew up in Trinidad & Tobago. He’s essentially going from one island to another.
TIME CHANGE: The first round of the SBS Championship was moved up Thursday, and it had nothing to do with the weather.
The Golf Channel began televising this event with the start of a new TV contract in 2007, and it traditionally has been shown in prime time on the east coast. That means it has gone head-to-head with the BCS Championship game.
This year, tour officials decided to get off the air before kickoff between Alabama and Texas.
“It makes great sense before the game gets started,” said Rick George, chief of operations for the PGA Tour. “We’ll be a lead in. And we’ll go back to our normal times the next three days.”
That led to one question that no one could answer: Why did it take three years to figure this out?
MAJOR PERKS: Lucas Glover went to the top of the Empire State Building after winning the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black. He made the round on the late night shows, including his reading David Letterman’s “Top 10” list, the usual stuff for a major champion.
The biggest perk took place at Death Valley.
Glover went to college at Clemson and was invited to run down the hill with the Tigers onto the field before the Florida State game.
“Coach (Dabo) Sweeney called and said, ‘I heard you always wanted to do this. You are going to run the team down at Florida State,”‘ Glover said. “Pretty cool. I don’t know that many people have ever done it, to be honest with you. But with my history there, and my grandfather doing it for all those years, my uncle, it’s something that I always wanted to do.”
He was more nervous running down the hill than he was on the 18th hole at Bethpage, but what a thrill.
“That was number one on the bucket list for me,” he said.