HUMBLE, Texas — D.A. Points happened to glance at the electronic scoreboard near the 17th green at Bay Hill last week. The distance of the putt he faced caught his eye — 54 feet 9 inches. "I don't think all my putts combined last week equaled 54 feet," joked Points, who went on to drain that monster birdie putt.
It's easy to forget the essence of golf in an era of 330-yard drives and wedges that can make a ball whistle a tune. But the truth is, golf is a game of putting. If baseball is 90 percent pitching, then golf is at least 80 percent putting.
Points was Exhibit A during Thursday's first round at the Shell Houston Open. You don't make nine birdies and shoot an eight-under-par 64 without making a bunch of putts. ShotLink, the PGA Tour's measuring system, listed him as holing putts of a combined length of 169 feet.
Tiger Woods is back to No. 1 in the world rankings in large part due to his putting. He ranks first in the Tour's strokes-gained putting stat, he ranks first in total putting and first in putting from 15 to 20 feet and 15 to 25 feet. From 5 to 15 feet, he's second. Tournaments are won on the greens, not on the fairways.
That made the round by Points so impressive. That, plus the fact that he used an old putter that belonged to his mom. He's used it before, a Ping Anser whose family tree dates back to the early 1980s. The wand won him a couple of Illinois State Amateurs, plus two Nationwide Tour events in 2004. He knows the latter because Ping gives winners gold-plated copies of their putters after a victory and Points has two. He needed only 23 putts in the first round.
"She might ask for it back now," Points joked about his mom. "I've had it for a long time. She's been praying for me to make some putts, so she's probably happy for me to have it."
Recent putting problems had Points, best known for winning at Pebble Beach with comedian Bill Murray as his pro-am partner, looking for help. When he left Orlando Tuesday night en route to Houston, he grabbed a handful of putters off the rack in his garage to try out as replacements for the week. There's something about his mother's old Anser, which he first borrowed when he was 11 or 12 (some 25 years ago) that just feels right, slightly worn grip and all.
"It doesn't run hot all the time but it has a good track record," Points said, explaining why he'd stopped using it. "It's just one of those clubs when you put it in your hands, it instantly feels good. I told my caddie, 'I know this grip is worn but if you ever change it, I will fire you on the spot.' It's a nice putter. I've had a lot of history with it."
The club isn't in mint condition. Points made some modifications. He sent it back to Ping recently to get it cleaned up and refurbished and asked them to put a little more weight in the head. Ping added some tungsten weights to the heel and toe.
"I just brought it this week because I had been putting so bad," Points said. "I thought, 'Maybe I'll pull this old putter out of the garage and it will have some magic in it.' Sure enough, today it did."
Points, 36, ranked 173rd in the Tour's strokes-gained putting stat coming into this week. There was also the small matter of a putting lesson Points got Wednesday morning from Brian White, the Lamar University golf coach. White works with Tour pro Chris Stroud, who is a close friend of Points', so he agreed to take a look at Points. A University of Illinois alumnus, Points considered asking fellow Fighting Illini Steve Stricker for help, given how well that paid off for Woods. But he went with White instead.
"He pointed out a couple of things I was doing wrong and I thought it made some sense," Points said. "I holed some nice putts in the pro-am yesterday, when it was blowing pretty hard and wasn't super-easy. The ball was going in with nice pace and rolling real tight and I thought, 'All right, this might be the key that gets me going.'"
Points had a one-shot lead over the next-best score in the morning half of the field, a 65 posted by former Georgia Tech star Cameron Tringale. Not to be outdone on the greens, Tringale holed an even longer putt than Points, a 61-footer at the 14th.
He didn't have an offbeat story to go with his putter, however. All Tringale did was play stress-free golf, hitting the first 17 greens in regulation before narrowly missing at the 18th. When he muttered in disgust after his second shot on the last hole, his caddie wondered what was up. "I wanted all 18," Tringale said. "I haven't done that in a while, maybe ever, out here."
One thing about the Redstone Golf Club's Tournament Course is that the greens are always smooth and quick for tournament week. The Houston Open has used it as a selling point for players who want to get acclimated to conditions similar to what they'll face at the Masters, which usually follows Houston but this year is a week later, after the Valero Texas Open. With fields like this, good greens means good scores, despite fairly breezy conditions Thursday afternoon.
Sometimes, though, a player has to take a step backward to move forward. As Points did by going back to an old putter.
"In 2004 when I won twice on the Nationwide Tour, it was probably the best putting year of my life," Points said. "I think I finished in the top five in putting. Maybe I'm an idiot for not having used this putter the whole time. It worked well today."