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Insider Interview: Pat O’Brien

PutterZone.com is honored to publish the following exclusive interview with Pat O’Brien, the putting instructor to 2007 Masters Champion Zach Johnson and other PGA Tour players.

Pat was a self-described “decent” amateur player who didn’t start officially teaching until 2002. Today, just five years later, he is regarded as one of the nation’s top putting instructors. His clients include Johnson and Vaughn Taylor, two of the hottest young players on the PGA Tour. Pat attributes the origins of his teaching success to a longtime friendship with the late Payne Stewart, whom he first met at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in 1987. At the time, Pat was a starstruck teenage caddy, a gig that he got through neighbor and friend Nathaniel Crosby (son of entertainer and tournament founder Bing Crosby). Years later, in 1999, Pat watched Stewart ascend from 40th to 2nd in putting in the span of one season with the help of Stewart’s new SeeMore brand putter—a remarkable achievement that culminated in Stewart’s epic putting performance at the U.S. Open. In 2000, Pat approached SeeMore Putter Company and secured a position as the company’s tour representative. Along the way, he formed strong bonds with up-and-comers Johnson and Taylor, both of whom use SeeMore putters. Pat remains a big believer in SeeMore’s signature RifleScope alignment technology, and he recently rejoined the company (which is under new ownership) as a consultant. Pat was kind enough to take time away from his busy schedule at the Byron Nelson Championship to speak with PutterZone.com. Following is our interview:

How did you go from being a SeeMore tour representative to becoming a putting instructor?
It was about the time I was figuring out what I was going to do with my life, as I wasn’t going to make it as a golfer. So the SeeMore opportunity came along, and SeeMore is a very interactive product. I had to show players how to use it, and that gave me an avenue into talking to them about their putting in general. When you work at that level, you’d better know what you’re talking about, or they’ll eat you alive. So it really forced me to study everything about putting, not just alignment, but how the stroke worked as well. I saw what worked and what didn’t, and my theories have just evolved from there.

So you’d never taught before that?
No. I was a decent player but I always had a good short game. I never knew why, and this forced me to figure out why mine was good and somebody else’s wasn’t. I only worked for SeeMore for two years. In 2002, I got married and didn’t want to travel anymore, and the company was struggling at the time, it had a bad owner. So I started teaching full time at a facility near my house. And that’s when I turned the corner. I got to work with people at all levels, and my whole teaching philosophy evolved even more.

How would you describe your approach to putting instruction?
I believe in fundamentals: grip, alignment, stance and posture. With putting, we were always told to do whatever’s comfortable—to play the ball up in your stance, keep your head back so you can see the line, get your eyes over the ball—all this stuff that doesn’t work very well. My guys (Johnson and Taylor) are great ambassadors for fundamentals, as is Tiger Woods. He’s got great fundamentals in everything he does. More specifically, I think you create good angles at setup or bad angles. If you create good angles, the putter will go where it should. If you create bad angles, you’re going to have to manipulate your stroke. It becomes a timing issue, and it’s hard to repeat, especially under pressure. For example, if your aim is poor, you’re going to have to make a compensation in your stroke. If you take the putter back shut, you’re going to have to make a compensation coming through. But when your fundamentals are solid and your angles are good, the putter is going to go back and through the way it should, without any manipulation or thought.

Is it easy for the recreational golfer to learn these fundamentals?
Based on my five years of teaching, yes. The grip that I teach is a little bit different, but I think everything else is common sense. Having good posture, not being too crowded over the ball so your arms can swing freely, lining up correctly…If you’re standing nice and tall, your arms hang at certain angles, and that’s natural. If you can replicate those angles when you grip a putter, then your arms are going to swing the way they should. But most people don’t do that. They turn the left arm down and in, because they grip the putter too much in their palm. That’s a bad left arm angle and the rest of the stroke makes a compensation for that. Same thing with the right arm. If your get your right arm too far on top, it won’t rotate out of the way.

Also, I believe that a putter swings on an arc, but the arc happens, it’s not a manipulated arc. Where I disagree with other top teachers, one in particular, is if we stood on the target line as in pool or shuffleboard, then the putter would swing straight back and straight through. But we stand to the side of a golf ball, so physics would say that we have to swing at an arc.

And yet many amateurs are told to swing straight back and through…
Absolutely. And in all fairness, on a three-foot putt, the putter does swing fairly straight back and through. But when you take it straight back on a 30-foot putt, that’s manipulation, that’s not natural.

Shifting gears, did you sense anything leading up to Masters week?
Yeah, I did. I really did. On Tuesday, I saw that both Zach and Vaughn were as prepared as they possibly could be. I didn’t have to tell them anything. I really had a sense of calm on Tuesday, and I wasn’t nervous for either of them, and that lasted the whole week. It was a very strange sensation. I never had it before. And I just had a feeling in my gut that something good was going to happen that weekend. I didn’t know what, but it just stayed with me all week, and it was very, very strange.

Immediately following the Masters, PutterZone.com saw in increase in traffic from people using the search terms such as “Pat O’Brien” and “Zach Johnson’s Putting Instructor.” How did Zach Johnson winning the Masters impact you?
As a friend of mine said, “Pat, you woke up a lot smarter on Monday morning.”

You’re obviously a big believer in SeeMore putters. You alluded to previous poor ownership, and now the company is under new ownership. Is that why you returned to the company?
Yes. I always knew that this putter was special. That fact that it’s still around speaks strongly, considering all of the mismanagement it’s gone through. With the new owners, it’s night and day. These guys are smart, they know the golf business, and they’re great guys. They’re in no hurry to build up the brand, they just want to do it right. They don’t want to cheapen the product by selling it in any old shop. They want to make it a special experience, where you’re going to get fit for it, and it’s going to work for you. It’s not going to be just another putter that you throw in the garage as you move on to the next one.

What is it that truly sets SeeMore putters apart?
With the RifleScope alignment technology—the red dots and the white lines under the shaft—you cannot impose your will on the putter if you want to be successful. If the shaft is dead vertical, not forward or back, then it forces you to be in a position where your your lines are good, where you’re square to your target. There’s no eye dominance, and you set up the same way, every day. You’re not trying 20 different things to get your feel. It puts you in a system where it’s the same every time. When I saw that with Payne Stewart…Well, you saw what he did at the U.S. Open. He went from 40th in putting average in 1998 to 2nd in 1999. He also finished 1st in putts per round. Before that he was a notorious tinkerer. I’d watch him play a round, and he’d be off to the side of the green just working on his stroke, trying to find the feel. Then in 1999, he put this new putter into play, and I never saw that again. He had a system, he had a routine that he would go to every day, and the SeeMore putter was a big part of that. The same can be said for Zach and Vaughn.

Thank you, Pat. Visit www.SeeMore.com for more information.

About Sean Weir

Sean Weir is the founder and editor of PutterZone.com, and the author of Putter Perfection, the definitive guide to putter fitting. Profile: Google+

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  1. Pat O'Brien sounded too humble, it seems he were a great golf player and has a lot of experience training and trained Zach Johnson who was champion, so this guy is amazing.

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