Weyburn, Sask.’s Graham DeLaet is 18th in driving distance. He’s 13th in total driving and 19th in greens in regulation. All indications of a great year, right? Well not so quickly. DeLaet is 85th in strokes gained — putting, but that’s up a long way from where he was just a week or so ago when he ranked around 140th. Last year he was 157th and in his rookie season he was 159th. CBSSports has him at 152 in putts per round this year, about where he’s ranked in past years. People still haven’t recognized how strong a driver and iron player DeLaet is — that’ll come — but his struggles with putting was on display on Saturday at the Honda when he missed a bunch of mid-length putts, or basically every putt that was shown on television. He was in contention heading into the third round, but two over-par rounds bumped him back to a T9.
That’s his second top 10 finish of the year — strong for sure — but one has to wonder how much his putting woes are holding him back. They held back George Knudson as well — another great Canadian ball striker — and probably kept him from greatness. Mike Mezei, the Canadian Tour pro I caddied for last summer and a friend of DeLaet, told me that once Graham figures out his putting he’ll win regularly. But that’s assuming he’ll ever have it under control.
“I think it is fair to say now that my putting has been up and down,” DeLaet told me two weeks ago. “Last week in Phoenix would have destroyed any putting stats I had. It was ugly. I wasn’t seeing the line and I wasn’t trusting any putts and second-guessing myself. I didn’t feel I could hit the hole from six feet. At Torrey I felt really confident. So that’s what I’m working on – trusting what you’ve got. Even if you have a poor read on a putt, you’re better hitting it with confidence than trying to guide it in there. I did lose a little bit of confidence in my stroke.”
DeLaet has been back-and-forth between a long and short putter. He’s currently back using a short putter.
“I switched part way through Palm Springs,” he says. “Thursday, Friday I wasn’t making anything and I was way outside the cut line and knew I had to shoot six or seven under just to make the cut. I figured it was as good a time as any to give it a whirl. I actually borrowed a putter from Luke List, as I was staying with him. So I grabbed a putter that he had in the trunk of his car and made eight birdies and shot 7-under. I hadn’t even practiced with a short putter for six months. That goes to show it was in my head.”
“I mean when it comes to maneuvering the golf ball around the course I really feel I’m in control and when my putting is on I’m in contention and when it is so-so I have my 40-place finishes,” DeLaet explains. “We all have strengths and weaknesses, but I’m always trying to get better at everything.I don’t think it is mechanical as much as it is believing and trusting. I have to be patient. I know I’ll have great putting days when you shoot 8-under and make a big move. I know it’ll come around.”
These days DeLaet says he’s back to feeling comfortable with the short putter. But it seems to me that he’s searching — trying to find something he’s comfortable with week-to-week, something that’s largely eluded him so far. Putting is part technique, part art. DeLaet is an artist with a driver or long iron, but is in a search for the right putter and technique when it comes to the greens.
DeLaet seemed a bit put out by my questions about his putting in our interview, perhaps because it is something he’s been thinking about a lot and raising questions also raises doubt. He’s probably right that confidence equates to more success in putting. It is an art that he occasionally can excel at but sometimes seems just out of reach. That’s what makes it so difficult for someone like DeLaet — he’s mastered half the game, but the part played on the greens is elusive, appearing at times and disappearing when he most needs it to.
“There are definitely days that are frustrating,” he says. “But there are days when I’m going to make lots of birdies and some 20-footers. A lot of times it comes to making the six-footer on a few holes. But I feel good on the short putter. The only downfall is that with a little hunched over it puts a lot of strain on my lower back.”
That means he tends to side with those who wish to keep long putters as part of the game, admitting he may still have to return to one.
“I’m right in the middle on the whole thing. I’m a little biased because I have used it. I don’t see it as an advantage. Mike Davis said they weren’t changing it because it was an advantage, but because it was trending and was becoming popular and they didn’t see it as a stroke. So I’m kind of split on it.”