Sure, you might say that Tiger Woods’ putting troubles started earlier than that, but it was on the eve of the British Open last July that Woods did what would have been unthinkable just months earlier: he switched putters. In retrospect, it was the first vivid sign that his putting armor was cracking.
After all, until then, Woods had used the same putter for the previous 10 years, a period in which he dominated professional golf—and dominated the greens along the way.
It’s Woods’ epic, fist-pumping, tournament-winning putts that really stand out in our collective memory. But those moments should not obscure something equally remarkable, and that would be his otherworldly consistency on the green.
Indeed, an April 2009 feature in Golf Magazine—six months before that fateful November night—showcased Woods’ eye-popping putting stats. For example, from 2002 forward, he sank 2,691 out of 2,700 putts from three feet. His “average total distance of putts made” per round was six feet longer than the PGA Tour average, so that on a per-putt basis, he was sinking putts on an average of four inches longer than the field. As the article concluded, “He makes the long ones others miss, and rarely misses from up close.”
In other words, the dude was a peerless putting machine.
Yet today, when we hear “Tiger Woods” and “putting,” the word “dominance” is suddenly far from our minds. Instead, the words that come to mind are “grasping” or “searching.” It’s not that he’s become a putting slouch, but when he missed two crucial four-footers on the back nine at Augusta National earlier this year, it was clear that he is still far from recapturing his old putting magic.
After switching to a new Nike Method blade at last year’s British Open, Woods switched back to his trusty Scotty Cameron putter, then switched to a new style of putter earlier this year: a toe-down Nike Method mid mallet, which he had flirted with in an earlier tournament.
This latest switch was apparently tied to his swing changes under the tutelage of Sean Foley. Said Woods, “I have to change everything. It’s the whole release pattern…how I release the putter, how I release the short game, how I release irons, drivers, they are all related. You just can’t have one swing and not have another; they are all interrelated.”
In a recent Golf Magazine feature, an “anonymous pro” was quoted as saying: ”Tiger relied on his putting to make up for a lot of bad ball striking in recent years. That’s why I don’t understand why he went to a putter that’s harder to putt with, a putter with a face that releases even more. Most people go to putters with less face rotation, not more.” (for more information on putter balance and release, check out PutterZone.com’s putter fitting guide Putter Perfection)
We’re not going to make judgments on whether or not Woods is playing with the right style of putter. Nor do we want to remotely imply that there’s something wrong with Woods’ putter—after all, the Nike Method putter has won three major tournaments in the hands of three different players, none of whom are Tiger Woods.
No, today we’re here to simply mourn the passing of the greatest run of putting in the history of golf. Whatever your feelings are about Woods, there’s no denying that he once electrified the putting green like no one else. It’s hard not to feel a little wistful about that. There was something addictive about watching the man sink those epic putts, which he did with startling regularity.
There were some flashes of putting brilliance at the 2011 Masters, but they quickly faded. We’re still not going to rule out another run by Tiger Woods. He has earned the benefit of the doubt.
But it was exactly a year ago that Tiger Woods switched putters for the first time in more than a decade, and now we know that the end of an era was upon us.