PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — This is a hot, wet wind, here at the Players. Not a hot, dry wind, like at Tulsa last year, where Tiger Woods won the PGA Championship. Not a cold, wet wind, like at Carnoustie last year, where Padraig Harrington won the British Open. Not a dry, fickle breeze, changing directions all the time, like Sunday at the Masters this year, when Trevor Immelman won his first major championship.
It’s a wind so strong — especially on the holes with no cover, Nos. three, four, 11, 17 and 18 — that it turns draws into hooks and fades into slices. The straight shots into the headwind go nowhere and downwind they sail forever . . . and that’s on the greens. After the rounds, the few hearty souls on the practice greens weren’t really practicing putting. They were practicing putting in the wind, fiddling with stance and stroke.
“At times, it was almost unplayable,” said Brandt Snedeker, who shot even-par 72 on Thursday and four-over 76 on Friday. “If you put your ball on the green, and you can’t keep it still, you really can’t play. That never happened to me, but it was close. On a lot of the putts, I didn’t ground my putter.”
If you put your putter on the green behind the ball, and the wind moves the ball while you are standing over it, you incur a one-shot penalty. Jack Nicklaus, at one windy British Open after another, would famously not ground his club on the windswept courses. You seldom have that kind of sustained wind on U.S. courses, outside of maybe West Texas and greater Pebble Beach, and that cautious move is all but unheard of here.
On Friday, Snedeker was trying to widen his stance and get a little more hunched over the ball, to be sturdier in the wind. Behind him, Miguel Angel Jimenez was working out his putting kinks with his long putter. The broomstick putter has cured many a case of the yips, but in a heavy wind the Tour players find it much more difficult to use. One of the reasons Sergio Garcia retired his long wand was because he finds it easier to putt in the wind with a short putter.
Bernhard Langer does, too, but that hasn’t stopped him from using the long putter. He won a senior event last month down the road from here in Palm Coast using a long putter in a fierce wind. Langer said at the time that the long putter was much more difficult in the wind, “but for me there is no choice.” He said it was more of a struggle to measure distance control with the long putter in the wind, but that’s a small price to pay for a man whose career could have been claimed by a serious case of the yips from six feet in. Instead, at 50, he is contending at the The Players. Fred Couples, trailing Langer by a couple of years and a couple of strokes, is using a long putter, too.
The weekend forecast is for more wind, and more difficult putting. Nobody has ever won a major — or a Players, for that matter — using a long putter. It may happen on some still, calm Sunday. But on Mother’s Day 2008, don’t bet on it.