Insider: Snedeker stays with what works on the greens

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September 19, 2012
Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

ATLANTA -- I met John Wooden just once in my life, and that was by accident. I was in Thousand Oaks, Calif., for Dallas Cowboys training camp at California Lutheran College. The Hall of Fame basketball coach was conducting a youth clinic in the college gym, and I made it a point to attend one of his sessions.

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Wooden was "old school," telling his students to play defense by staying between their man and the basket and by moving their feet. On offense, he instructed the players to pass and cut.

This was during the days of Jerry Tarkanian's Runnin' Rebels at UNLV and Loyola Marymount was scoring more than 100 points per game.

After practice, I introduced myself to the great man and asked about the changing philosophies in college basketball.

Wooden smiled and responded, "You can't have progress without change, but you also must realize that not all change is progress."

I don't know if that's an original quote of Wooden's -- or just a coaching cliche -- but 30 years later, I still remember his smile and wisdom.

All of which is a very round about way of getting to Brandt Snedeker's putting.

He never changes anything.

I began broadcasting on PGA TOUR Radio in 2007, and Snedeker was putting with an Odyssey XG White Hot Rossie putter. He's still using it. I don't mean the same model putter, I mean the same putter. I pulled it out of his bag to examine it a couple years ago and it looked like the grip hadn't been changed since Snedeker joined the TOUR.

Putters are a very personal thing. Some players go through a "flavor of the month club" with their equipment. Matt Kuchar is a great putter and still makes frequent changes. Robert Garrigus is looking for consistency and has gone from short shaft, long shaft to the "tweener."

Snedeker just stays with what works.

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Standings
Here are the top five players entering the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola:
1 Rory McIlroy
2 Tiger Woods
3 Nick Watney
4 Phil Mickelson
5 Brandt Snedeker

He is ranked first in strokes gained-putting this year and is fourth in total putting. Since joining the TOUR full-time in 2007, Snedeker has ranked outside the top 20 in strokes gained-putting just once and has been ranked 15th or better in four of six seasons. During that same time frame, he has also ranked 10th or better in total putting five times.

Snedeker is not a great ball-striker but he is a great scorer. He has a knack for turning a bogey into a par, and some of that is due to his consistency on the greens.

That consistency extends to practice.

Snedeker pays close attention to alignment during his practice sessions. He first uses a chalk line to mark a path to the cup. Snedeker then attaches a small laser device to the shaft of his putter to make sure his path matches the chalk line. When the laser is married to that line, then his path and alignment are correct and practice is complete.

Sounds simple, doesn't it?

I imagine Wooden would be pleased.

Observations:

Clubhouse: East Lake has the best clubhouse on the PGA TOUR because it is a virtual shrine to Bobby Jones. As you enter the Tudor design, all four of Jones' 1930 Grand Slam trophies are on display along with dozens of other mementos. I am particularly jealous of a note that is framed and on the wall in which Jones congratulates a sportswriter for his golf acumen. If I had a similar letter, I think I would have the note tattooed on my forearm or perhaps transcribed on my business card.

History lesson: The land that comprises East Lake had gone through numerous changes before it became a golf course. If you look closely at the eighth fairway you will notice an unusual swale that is out of place with the course's topography. That's because the swale is actually the remains of a Confederate defense work as Sherman battled his way through Georgia in 1864. At the turn of the century, the land was part of an amusement park with the lake being used for boat rides and swimming.

Tough stretch: The course features a pair of three-hole stretches that will capture everyone's attention. On the front nine, holes 5 to 7 will be difficult. The fifth is a 520-yard par 4 in which players have to hit a long iron off a downhill lie. The sixth is a 200-yard par 3 featuring a peninsula green that juts into the lake, while the seventh is a 434-yard uphill par 4. On the inward nine, holes 16 to 18 are a very demanding finish with a pair of par 4s measuring more than 470 yards and a 230-yard par 3 for the closer. Play those six holes, one third of the course, in even par and you will pick up ground on the field.

Greens: The course converted from bent grass greens to MiniVerde Bermuda in 2008 and it has totally changed the scoring. The bent grass had to be kept moist in the summer heat and the surfaces never got firm. That changed dramatically with the conversion to Bermuda. The greens are now firm and fast and players are very cautious with their approaches.

Winner, winner: Do you want the chalk or the long shot? Tiger Woods should play. Remember Tiger's pattern, he wins on courses he has won on before. Bay Hill, Muirfield Village and Congressional. You can't ignore his history at East Lake. Woods has finished first or second in his last four trips to Atlanta.

If you want someone a little under the radar, try Lee Westwood. He comes to East Lake playing well, having finished 13th or better in each of the Playoffs events and almost nipped Rory McIlroy at the wire for the BMW Championship title. Don't worry that Westwood hasn't played the course before. The TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola is filled with players such as Bill Haas and Camilo Villegas -- who won on their first attempt.

I still like Tiger to win, but Westwood will be a factor.

Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.

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