Putting change could lead to change of fortune for McGovern

September 20, 2007
By Dave Lagarde PGATOUR.com Correspondent

BOISE, Idaho -- He is one of the originals, a journeyman who understands both sides of this thing called professional golf. That is, the bitter and the sweet.

Category Total Rank
Driving Distance 288.0 116
Driving Accuracy 69.92% 44
Greens in Regulation 71.35% 20
Putts Per Round 29.82 78
Sand Saves 65.85% 1
Scoring Average 70.69 34
Money Leaders $83,877 59

The problem for Jim McGovern lately is there has been way too much of the former and not nearly enough of the latter.

Actually, forget "lately.'' Better amend it to read: this century.

That's about how long McGovern, 42, has done his best rubber ball impression, bouncing back and forth between the PGA TOUR and the Nationwide Tour -- without a whole lot of success. But give McGovern credit for stick-to-itiveness. He certainly has doggedly kept at it, looking to change something, most prominently his luck.

Maybe, just maybe, Jimmy Mac might have unearthed a distinct change in fortune here at the Albertson's Boise Open if his performance in Thursday's first round of the $675,000 Nationwide Tour event is any indication. McGovern got out of the gate quickly at Hillcrest Country Club with an 8-under-par 63, his best effort by five strokes on the 6,698-yard track in 13 rounds. Looking for a reason why he's off to such a strong start?

"I made a lot of putts, a whole lot of putts,'' McGovern said. "I might not have outplayed anyone today but I did out-putt them.''

The positive putting reinforcement started on the first hole, where McGovern made a 10-footer for birdie. He followed with birdie bombs from 35 and 25 feet on the next two holes, walking off the third green thinking, "hey this is all right.''

McGovern, who needed just 25 putts in his round, was spot on with his assessment -- at least for Thursday. But there are no guarantees in this game. More than a few first-round leaders have turned into final-round road kill.

That said, there is favorable history for those who are outstanding in the opening 18 holes in Boise. Eleven of the previous 17 champions have been in the top five after day one.

McGovern knows a little about this charter event's history. He played in the inaugural in 1990, back when he was in the first Nationwide Tour's graduating class of five, finishing second to Jeff Maggert on the money list. He also owns a victory in The Big Show, winning a playoff against John Huston in the 1993 Shell Houston Open.

But he lost his playing privileges on the PGA TOUR following a dismal 1998 season and has been attempting to get them back as a card-carrying member ever since, more often than not yo-yoing between tours whenever he could get a start as a past champion on the PGA TOUR.

"I always was thinking I could catch lightning in a bottle,'' he said.

But the constant change of tour scenery worked against him, eroding the most important commodity for a golfer, confidence. He and his wife Lauren also had begun a family that reached four additions.

"I wasn't practicing like I should have but confidence was the big key,'' he said of his dark ages when successful events were few and far between. You have confidence in your game and it's easier to swallow bogeys.''

Although ranked 59th on the 2007 money list, McGovern believes he is headed in the right direction. He also thinks he is "maturing.''

"I understand myself a lot more,'' he said. "I know my boundaries. And believe it or not, I've seen myself getting a little better each of the last three years.''

There is a chance McGovern also has a little karma working for him this week. On his drive from last week's Oregon Classic presented by Kendall Automotive Group to Boise, he stopped at a gas station and spied a jar full of little metallic objects with sayings on them. One that said, 'Grin'n bear it,'' was resting on top. He bought it and pulled it out of his pocket for all to see after the round. Needless to say it will stay there.

It would make McGovern's story sexier to say his good-luck piece was responsible for his improved putting. But an adjustment in his putting stance made last week in Oregon likely is a little more responsible. McGovern decided to go back to his old style, moving the ball back in his stance. He hit two putts in Oregon and changed his mind again.

"I thought maybe I should do the opposite of what I thought would help,'' he said. "So I moved it up, way, way up.''

Now the idea is to maintain the roll. At least McGovern is a realist about the good and the bad things that can befall a player. He knows he is lucky to be playing golf for a living, but he also understands the travel demands rob him of quality time with his family. So questions hover about whether or not he should continue to chase it should his down period continue.

"Lauren (his wife) loves it and the kids love it,'' he said. "But the kids all at such a great age (they are 12, 11, 8 and 6) now that it's tough. I'm really lucky to have Lauren. She's a Realtor and a lawyer and that allows me to continue.

"We talked about [McGovern pursuing something else] the last two winters. But I really want to play 30 events on the big tour. If I can't keep my card in 30 tournaments out there, maybe it will be time for me to try something new.''