Insider: Putting tip from Price helps Hallberg turn corner

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Gary Hallberg's first Champions Tour win came in his 48th start.
October 06, 2010
Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Contributor

One minute, Gary Hallberg is planning for life after golf. Four hours and 61 strokes later, he's trying to figure out what just happened.

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The good news is everything that happened was good. Actually, in Hallberg's mind, it was beyond good. It was life-changing in a very positive way.

In a year where first-time winners have become almost commonplace, Hallberg became the seventh to achieve his first Champions Tour victory, and the third in four events, when he won the Ensure Classic at Rock Barn.

Hallberg ended a personal drought that stretched back to the 2002 Nationwide Tour event in Scranton. Before that, his third and final victory on the PGA TOUR came on Oct. 4, 1992 at the Buick Southern Open. The date has significance. Hallberg's victory at Rock Barn came on Oct. 3.

Hallberg's final-round 61 tied the Champions Tour record for lowest final round by a winner. He joins Loren Roberts and Rocky Thompson on that short list. Hallberg birdied the final hole with a clutch putt to shoot 18-under 198 for a one-stroke victory over Fred Couples.

The winning performance takes Hallberg into this week's Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship, the fifth and final major, with an energized outlook.

Hallberg, 52, had reached a point in his career where he was looking at options. It didn't take him long to figure out that a future as an electrician or mason wasn't in the cards.

"I've never been good at that," he said.

Sports writer wasn't a possibility, either.

"I don't know how to write so I couldn't be a journalist," he said. "Sell cars? Right.

"Well, what can you do?"

The answer always came back the same: I can play golf.

He proved it at Rock Barn where he played better than he ever has. It earned him a two-year exemption to the season-opening event in Hawaii and lifted a huge burden about his future.

"You look at the players - Freddie Couples, Bernhard Langer - you look at all the guys, champions, and you think, golly, even if I play my best, I don't know if I can beat those guys. You've got to believe, you've got to have confidence," Hallberg said.

"I think for me it's a lesson in confidence. I've not been the most confident golfer my whole career, and I just really tried to be confident and work hard."

Enter Mike McGetrick, the prominent instructor who doubled as Hallberg's caddie at Rock Barn. McGetrick has helped put some of the key pieces together in Hallberg's game.

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"Mike McGetrick has helped me clean it up," Hallberg said. "When I say clean it up, be a little more precise with my swing. He's helped me to believe what I'm doing is good enough."

McGetrick's message: You know what you're doing. You're hitting it as good as anybody.

Hallberg took it to heart at Rock Barn.

"I knew I could win," he said. "I've won before. I had a good college career. My pro career was okay, and I always felt like the Champions Tour was like a mulligan."

But knowing those things, having that resume, doesn't guarantee victories or success on the Champions Tour. Hallberg knew it would take more, much more.

First, there was an improvement in his swing with McGetrick's help. Then there was a putting tip that paid instant dividends.

"I'm now in sync with my swing," said Hallberg, who sorted out speeding issues in various swing components.

On top of that, he was "thinking positions," something that commonly spells trouble. It all started to change shortly before the Ensure Classic.

"I started hitting the ball great, better and better, and my putting, though, has just not been good enough," Hallberg said.

On that score, Hallberg got a little help from another friend. It was Nick Price who, at Rock Barn, told Hallberg, point blank: "Gary, you could be winning out here if you just started putting. You've got to be a better putter."

Coming from Price, a wonderful ball-striker and sometimes streaky putter, the message resonated. Sounds good, Hallberg thought, but how to fix it?

Enter Price, again. Hey, it's good to have friends.

"On the putting green, Nick walked up to me and gave me this little tip," Hallberg said.

Price told Hallberg, "You're just moving too quick." So Hallberg went to work fixing his tempo.

The next day, Hallberg's putter was on fire.

"I got up on the first putt, boom, in the hole," Hallberg said of a 12-foot birdie effort. "I was hitting it good and making the putts. I mean, 61. On the last round to win by one. That's just too good to be true for me.

"And then I get paid money?"

Yes - $262,500, the biggest payday of his career. Can't make that selling cars or laying bricks.

The tip from Price and the sense of urgency conveyed by McGetrick won't soon be forgotten by Hallberg, who had actually started a list of pros and cons on continuing his golf career.

"I'm writing them down and kind of planning them a little bit," Hallberg recalled. "Mike is like, 'Stop that. Come on, man.' He kept focusing me.

"But you've got a family and kids, a daughter in college, I've got all these things going on, I've got a lot of expenses. I'm thinking, 'I'm a responsible guy, I've got to make money.' We've got to make money, right? It's just amazing that this worked out like this."

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