ANCASTER, Ont. - After a dismal season on the greens last year, Robert Garrigus decided to switch to a longer putter.
It wasn’t hard to find one – any putter would have been longer than the one he was using.
The 34-year-old American had a 28-inch putter, an almost comically short length for a strapping man who is about six feet tall and 200 pounds. He had used the short stick since he was 19 and often joked it was a child’s club.
A conventional putter is 32 to 36 inches. But when Garrigus switched last off-season, he went all the way to a 47-inch model.
“We kind of went over my putting stats and they were terrible,” Garrigus said Friday at the RBC Canadian Open after his four-under-par 66 moved him into third place. “My coach said I need to step up my game and start making putts.”
Fellow Americans Scott Piercy and William McGirt shared the second-round lead. Their two-day total of 11-under-par 129 gave them a one-shot lead over Garrigus and a two-shot cushion over fourth-place Bo Van Pelt, also of the United States.
Josh Teater of the United States, former Canadian Open champion Vijay Singh of Fiji and Tim Clark, a South African who equalled the course record Friday with a 62, were tied for fifth place at eight under. Singh and Clark use long putters.
Garrigus, who’s better known for his long hitting (he’s leading the field this week in driving distance with an average of 320 yards a tee shot), practised the entire off-season with the long putter and put it in play to start the 2012 season.
“Oh my gosh, I hit 500 putts a day, at least, for about 35 or 40 days [over the winter],” said Garrigus, who anchors the club in his sternum.
His putting statistics are just marginally better this year – he’s moved to No. 148 in the most important putting statistic (strokes gained-putting) from No. 166 in 2011 and he’s in the bottom half of the field in the category this week at Hamilton Golf and Country Club – but his confidence with the club is sky-high. And it’s hard to argue with the success he’s having this season.
Garrigus has two runner-up finishes and two other top-10 finishes in 18 starts. He’s amassed more than $1.6-million (U.S.) in earnings and is in position at Hamilton to enter the winner’s circle for the second time in his PGA Tour career.
If he’s coming down the back nine Sunday in the hunt, he believes he can count on his long broom.
“It helps me under pressure because it doesn’t start off line as much as the other one did,” he said. “My alignment is better. I know where it’s lined up. That’s freeing me up to make a good stroke.”
He finds the heavier long putter especially useful on the slow uphill putts on the sloping greens at Hamilton.
Garrigus comes to the long putter at a controversial time in its history. Ernie Els used one to help him win the Open Championship last weekend and Webb Simpson had one in his bag during his U.S. Open triumph.
Their success renewed debate on whether long putters violate the rules of golf, which say a club should not be anchored to the body and must swing freely. The sport’s international governing body, the Royal & Ancient, is reviewing their legality and has hinted it might ban them.
Garrigus, meanwhile, will continue to use the long putter until he is told he longer can.
He is skeptical that a ban could be enforced after the putters have been allowed for so many years, and he doesn’t necessarily buy the belief that they confer an unfair advantage, even if they have worked for him.
“Not every guy uses it,” he said. “If it was that easy, everyone on tour would use it. It’s just not that simple. Some guys can’t putt with it. I felt I had to put a lot of work in to use it. I started to use it and I’m putting well.”
Well enough to win the Canadian Open? He’ll find out this weekend.
CANADIAN CONTENT: Mike Weir was among the 18 Canadian casualties on Friday at the RBC Canadian Open, extending his string of missed cuts on the PGA Tour to 11. The eight-time tour winner, struggling this year after elbow surgery in 2011, finished two rounds at four-over-par 144. David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., is the top Canadian at four under, seven shots off the lead. Matt McQuillan of Kingston, amateur Albin Choi of Toronto, Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., and Matt Hill of Sarnia, Ont., also made the cut. A Canadian hasn’t won the national championship since 1954.
AMES OVER AND OUT: Stephen Ames of Calgary plans to take a long break from competitive golf. After missing the cut Friday by two strokes, he confirmed that he would take the rest of the year off. “Yep, five months off,” the 48-year-old said as he headed to his car in Hamilton Golf and Country Club’s parking lot. He raised the possibility of shutting down his season last week at the Open Championship after missing the cut there, too. He has failed to reach weekend play in seven of his past eight starts and hasn’t qualified for the FedEx Cup playoffs, which begin next month. He said he needs time off to fix his game but indicated he’d play in 2013 as he awaits his Champions Tour eligibility at age 50.
HE SAID IT: "This golf course takes the juices out of it for me, because it’s not an exciting golf course where you generally go hit driver. … For me, I like to be aggressive and shoot at things, but that [course] is really boring for me." - Scott Piercy. Short and strategic Hamilton doesn’t tickle Scott Piercy’s fancy, even though he’s 11 under after two rounds and shares the lead. Other players have raved about the classic layout.
BY THE NUMBERS: 62 - Course record at Hamilton, set Thursday by Scott Piercy and matched Friday by Tim Clark. Bud Cauley and Brian Harman both shot 63 Friday. Scores are low this year largely because of soft conditions on the course. “Obviously being soft you’re able to go at a lot of flags and make a lot of birdies,” Clark said. In 2006, when the Canadian Open was last played at Hamilton amid firmer conditions, the course ranked as the third-most difficult course on the PGA Tour that year.
RAIN DELAY: RBC Canadian Open organizers have delayed tee times for Saturday in anticipation of another wet morning. Play will begin at 10:30 a.m. (EDT) with threesomes going off the first and 10th tees. At PGA Tour events on the weekend, players usually go off in twosomes from the first tee only, and beginning earlier. “We are confident that by the time we tee off at 10:30 a.m., the weather will have passed and spectators will be treated to a full day of third-round action,” tournament director Bill Paul said.