Golf equipment is never a story at a tournament — until it becomes a story.
Any time Tiger Woods makes an equipment change, gearheads around the world race to their computers and slam message boards and chat sites with opinions. No one’s bag is scrutinized more closely than Tiger’s.
But Woods’s equipment change last week was huge not only because of what he did, but also when he did it.
The world’s No. 1 player swapped out the Scotty Cameron Newport putter he’d used to win 13 of his 14 major championships in favor of a Nike Method 001 — the week of the British Open!
Several scribes who couldn’t tell a Nike swoosh from a Titleist T approached me in the Media Center at St. Andrews and asked questions like this: “So, ah … what’s the deal with this putter that Tiger is using. It’s new, right?”
To me, there are only three reasons why anyone, including the golf’s best players, would change putters.
1. You’re adjusting your stroke. Heel-toe weighted blade putters like Tiger’s are ideal for golfers who like to take the putter back inside the target line, square in through impact, and then release it to the inside on the follow through. Face-balanced putters are better for players who create less arc, swinging the putter straight back and then straight through. So if you are making an adjustment to your stroke, changing putters could help you make the swing you’re looking for.
2. You want a different feel, sound or roll. This is the reason Tiger cited in his press conference for yanking the Scotty Cameron putter and going with the Nike.
Two putters that look identical can produce totally different sensations in your hands if they are made from different materials. They can also make different sounds and produce different rolls.
At address, the Tiger’s putters look almost identical, right down to the single dot on the top flange. The Scotty Cameron putter is made from a single block of stainless steel and its face is smooth. The Nike Method 001 is also made from stainless steel, but it has grooves in the face that are partially filled with a polymer that are designed to get the ball rolling faster.
“[The ball] does come off faster with the new groove technology,” Woods said before the start of the tournament. “It rolls the ball better and rolls it faster.”
It was that faster roll that Woods wanted. He said that with the Nike putter, he didn’t have to compensate as much on St. Andrews’s slower greens.
3. You’re trying to catch lightning in a bottle. Golfers can be a superstitious lot, so when it comes to the dark art of putting, it’s no surprise that some players think changing magic wands can help them conjure the ball into the hole more consistently. That can mean anything from buying the same putter as the club champ to purchasing the first putter you make three putts with on the pro shop’s carpet.
Woods elected to go back to using his Scotty Cameron putter for the final round in St. Andrews. While statistically it was his best day on the greens — he took just 27 putts on Sunday, five fewer than in any of his previous three rounds — he didn’t sound pleased about it.
“I couldn’t build any momentum, wasn’t making any putts today, and once I got it going just a little bit, I thought, I had back-to-back three-putts at 13 and 14,” he said afterward.
Even before the tournament started on Thursday I suspected that the Nike putter might not be in his bag for long. The greens at Firestone Country Club, where Woods will play next in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, should be fast. The greens the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits should be fast, too. His word choice made it sound like this change was for the Open Championship’s unique conditions, not necessarily the long haul.
At the same time, I literally did a double take when I saw him warming up with the Scotty Cameron on Sunday. I assumed Tiger would use the Nike putter all week.
So for two weeks, until Woods arrives in Akron, Ohio, equipment junkies will pontificate and debate whether Tiger’s putter changes in Scotland were a success or failure. Was it the plane or the pilot?
I don’t buy the conspiracy theorists who claim the whole putter swap was a “thank you” to Nike for sticking with him through his off-course scandals. He genuinely thought the Method 001 would help him, but it didn’t. At least not to his satisfaction.
The only thing that I’m absolutely sure of is that golf writers will be watching the practice green at Firestone Country Club a little more carefully.