The feeling is gone. And if Michael Putnam grows any more comfortable playing down the stretch late on Sundays, he might not be long for the Web.com Tour.
As it stands, Putnam already is assured a PGA TOUR spot this fall after becoming just the tenth Web.com Tour pro to win in back-to-back weeks. A third victory, of course, brings instant promotion.
And should it happen at next week’s Air Capital Classic, it would come with a little added history. No man has captured three consecutive events on the Web.com Tour schedule.
“I love having the chance to make history,” Putnam said from Hawaii, where he’s using the Tour’s one-week break to enjoy a little family vacation.
“I think the guys know that it’s going to be tough to beat me out there when I’m playing well. No one has the last couple of weeks. No one really has all year.”
Certainly, no one has put himself in Sunday contention more often through the season’s first half. Putnam already had four top-10 finishes to his name before his current torrid run kicked in.
A closing 6-under 66 at the Mexico Championship allowed him to overtake Alex Prugh and Whee Kim for his first victory since 2010. Returning to U.S. soil, Putnam built a four-shot lead over Sunday’s front nine that allowed him to cruise home with the Mid-Atlantic Championship.
In his past eight rounds, Putnam has two 64s – recorded on two of the three toughest courses played yet this year – and a 66.
“Michael is a pretty reserved guy,” said Jason Gore, a fellow Pepperdine grad who happens to be the only man to win three consecutive Web.com Tour starts when he turned the feat in 2005. “He’s such a good player. It’s not like this is coming out of left field.”
Indeed, Putnam has held a PGA TOUR card twice before, nearly winning his first professional start eight years ago in Hartford. A wrist injury played a large role in him stepping back for 2013, but he’s healthy now and using the time to get accustomed to Sunday pressure.
“I definitely don’t have the feelings of anxiety that were going through my body early in the year and other times I’ve been in contention,” he said.
That’s not to suggest the Washington native has ice water in his veins. His approach shot over water at No. 18 in Mexico left him holding his breath, watching his 4-iron attempt just clear the hazard before coming to rest in a bunker. A blast to 5 feet set up a clinching birdie.
But there’s little doubt Putnam, who doesn’t use a sports psychologist, is finding a comfort zone in all those late Sunday tee times. Last week’s cushion was built on the strength of three early birdie putts of at least 10 feet.
“I know this most likely isn’t the only week I’m going to be in contention,” he said. “That’s allowed me to make one or two extra putts, hit one or two extra shots closer than I did when I was finishing from second to 10th.”
He points to the Chitimacha Louisiana Open as the start of his transformation. After making the cut on the number, he jumped up the leaderboard with a Saturday 64 and kept climbing with a final-round 68.
“Every putt I made was pushing me up that leaderboard,” he said. “Yet I still was able to overcome that [sensory] awareness.”
His biggest pressure putt came a month later, draining a 25-footer on the final hole of the South Georgia Classic that vaulted him from fifth to second behind Will Wilcox.
“For me, it’s always been about putting,” he said. “I’ve always been a really good ballstriker, no matter the situation. I could hit the shots in pressure situations, but now I can make those putts.”
Though Putnam’s hot streak might have carried him into the U.S. Open, he opted to withdraw from Monday’s sectional qualifier. That, he said, would have deviated from his primary goals of regaining his PGA TOUR card and finishing No. 1 on the money list.
That No. 1 spot takes on added importance under the Web.com Tour’s new format. It guarantees the top spot in the priority rankings and is unaffected by performance in the four-event Finals series.
“I can play my schedule and play all the invitationals and all the big tournaments,” said Putnam, who holds a cushion of more than $132,000 over No. 2 Edward Loar.
“No. 2 can’t guarantee anything. In fact, No. 2 has nothing – he might finish 50th in the reshuffle [after the Finals]. So finishing No. 1 is very important to me.”
Of course, there’s that nugget of history looming next week.
Gore’s feat isn’t exactly similar, having taken two events off after winning back-to-back in West Virginia and Minnesota. Those wins left him drained, especially coming a little more than a month after his Cinderella U.S. Open bid at Pinehurst.
“Things were pretty crazy at that point, especially after the Open and winning twice,” he said.
At the Cox Classic, an opening 71 left Gore eight shots off the pace. But it might have been a blessing in disguise, because it turned his focus from winning three in a row.
“The rest of the time, I was just trying to get back into the golf tournament,” he said. It took an eight-birdie streak on the final day for Gore to catch up to Roger Tambellini, forcing a playoff that he won on the second extra hole.
Likewise, Gore said Putnam will be in better shape if winning isn’t the focus.
“He’s a smart enough player,” Gore said, “that if he just goes out and plays golf, he’ll be fine.”
Putnam, for his part, said he understands the pitfalls. Winning is the objective, but it only comes through playing top-notch golf.
“It doesn’t bother me,” he said of any added pressure. “I know that even if I have a week of not playing good golf, I can get it back really quickly.
“We’ve got some of my favorite tournaments coming up, too – Utah, Boise, Columbus. Those are tournaments I know I play well in and have played well in. I’ll be gunning to win at least one of those weeks.”