By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
IRVING, Texas -- As Ryan Palmer stood on each tee during Thursday's first round of the HP Byron Nelson Championship, he didn't think about what club to pull from his bag. Or what part of the fairway to aim at. Or where he should stand on the tee box.
He only had one goal: Take orders. From his caddie.
In the latest example that an uncluttered mind is a productive one, Palmer produced his lowest round on TOUR in four months, a 5-under 65, in large part because he handed over the strategic decisions to caddie James Edmondson at each tee.
"All I did is get on each tee and waited until he told me what to do," said Palmer, who’s in solo second, one shot off the 18-hole lead held by Jeff Overton. "He told me what side of the tee box to get on, and what side he wanted me to be on, what target he wanted me to hit, and it was my job to hit the shot.
"I think there is something there because I was really relaxed and calm and at ease. It came easy."
This is the first round that Palmer has used this strategy. Although he had played steadier in recent months -- his usual track record is one good tournament followed by a handful of poor ones -- Palmer has never played well at the TPC Four Seasons Resort. In seven previous starts, he had made just one cut.
So during a meeting Palmer had with Edmondson and coach Randy Smith a few days ago, the three decided that the timing was perfect for a new strategy. Why not do something different at a course that has been a nemesis for him?
"We pulled a page out of the Phil Mickelson book, and I gave James the reigns," Palmer said.
Palmer isn't sure that he would have resorted to new tricks had he been playing a course he's had success on. But the sight lines at the TPC Four Seasons aren't to his liking. With Edmondson calling the shots, Palmer didn't worry about such things. He just teed it up and swung. (The greens, however, remain under Palmer's domain.)
"It was the matter of getting over the fear of the tee shots and picturing shots where he wanted me to go," Palmer said. "I never thought about it. I never saw anything."
Palmer said there were only a couple of instances Thursday in which he had to grit his teeth while taking orders from Edmondson.
At 18, he thought the tee shot was playing shorter, and wondered whether the better play was to try to hit the wider portion of the fairway past the water.
Then at the 528-yard par-4 third -- the longest par 4 on TOUR -- Edmondson wanted Palmer to hit 3-wood, but Palmer was thinking was 5-wood. Palmer opted for the 3-wood and landed his tee shot in perfect position between the two bunkers (alas, he still took bogey after his approach shot came up short of the green).
"Those were the two times I thought about it for a minute, going, I'm not sure about this," Palmer said. "But that was my goal -- whatever he said, I was going to hit it, just not even think about it."
Making the strategy a little easier to carry out is the fact that Palmer and Edmondson have know each other since high school. They traveled together as competitors on the Hooters Tour for 18 months. Eventually, Palmer asked Edmondson to caddie for him.
That was eight years ago. Given the rash of caddie changes among notable players in recent weeks, Palmer is glad to have a friend on his bag.
"We have never really had it out," he said, "and when we do, we have it our right there in the parking lot. It's been maybe two or three times we've had it out, so I'm very fortunate to have something like that."
The strategy obviously worked on Thursday, and Palmer is committed to using it the rest of the tournament. But will the strategy continue beyond this week, say at next month's U.S. Open? He's not saying.
"You know what? When we get to the golf course we'll see," Palmer said, "but if this keeps me this loose and free and not thinking as much, I'll put his name on the bag."