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Rubenstein: Tour players roll with putting coach's advice Add to ...

Swing and putting coaches come and go. Some do last longer than the fate David Leadbetter, who has had staying power, consigned to them.

Still, he was including himself when he said on the range at the Honda Classic earlier this year: “We’re all flavours of the month.”

Just now, putting coach Dave Stockton is one instructor who is staying the course. The 1970 and 1976 PGA Championship winner has developed quite a reputation for helping golfers get out of their own, overthinking ways.

His approach puts one in mind of something Brad Faxon once said when asked what he was doing on a practice green.

Faxon, long considered one of the game’s best putters, appeared to be putting carelessly. “I’m practising not caring,” he said.

Stockton believes in that near-mystical notion. On his website, he advises golfers to “Take ‘try’ out of the equation,” and “be a painter, not a carpenter.” He wants golfers to roll the ball, not hit it.

Stockton helped players win 29 tournaments last year. He helped Phil Mickelson win the 2009 Tour Championship with the best putting show his long-time caddie, Jim Mackay, had seen. Stockton’s reputation soared.

A few months later, Mickelson won the 2010 Masters, still putting thoughtlessly, so to speak. His putting has been iffy for the last while, though. So putting goes – away, sometimes, that is.

Then, there’s Rory McIlroy.

The gifted 22-year-old from Northern Ireland took a four-shot lead into the final round of this year’s Masters, shot 80, which included a four-putt, and consulted with Stockton a few weeks later. Stockton advised him to revert to his instincts and speed up on the greens. McIlroy later won the U.S. Open by eight shots, incorporating what amounted to speed putting.

Meanwhile, Stockton has also been working with LPGA players.

He worked with Michelle Wie before she was the top U.S. player in the 2009 Solheim Cup. Recently, armed, so to speak, with a long putter, Wie worked with Stockton again. She shot 67 in the first round of the CN Canadian Women’s Open in Mirabel, Que., on Thursday, and 69 on Friday, three shots out of the lead.

Samantha Richdale of Kelowna, B.C., has also been working with Stockton. She opened with 66 and shot 73 on Friday.

It’s no surprise Stockton titled his new book Unconscious Putting. (It will be published Sept. 15.)

He obviously feels that even tour golfers have been infected with putting brain cramps. They get to thinking too much about the act, which, after all, takes place on surfaces that can never be perfect. The “hit” impulse can take over. No more stroke, but a nearly imperceptible but deeply felt lurch.

Consider Tiger Woods, who used to bury every putt he needed to.

Nowadays, though, Woods is vulnerable on the greens. He appears unsure of himself.

Woods hasn’t gone to Stockton (or, if he has, he’s not said so). He continues to work with Sean Foley on his swing, his short game, and his putting. Woods has said he’s trying to apply the same ideas from his driver right through the bag, including his putter. But lately, he resembles a carpenter more than a painter.

(Stockton couldn’t be reached Friday for his views about Woods.)

There appear to be three relevant questions: What was Woods doing when he was making everything? What’s happened? What does he need to do to roll his rock, as the putting lingo goes?

Maybe it’s all in Stockton’s new book, which is subtitled, “Dave Stockton’s Guide to Unlocking Your Signature Stroke.”

Stockton, three months shy of his 70th birthday, has shown he’s more than the flavour of the month, and golfers are paying attention.


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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and, most recently, he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 11 books, including The Natural Golf Swing, with George Knudson (1988); Links: An Insider’s Tour Through the World of Golf (1990); The Swing, with Nick Price (1997); The Fundamentals of Hogan, with David Leadbetter (2000); A Season in Dornoch: Golf and Life in the Scottish Highlands (2001); Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); and his latest, This Round’s on Me (2009). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at rube@sympatico.ca . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein

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