In the Hollywood movie of today’s final round of the Shell Houston Open, it all would have come down to the final 13½-foot putt on the final hole…with his mom’s old Ping Anser putter from the 80’s…after a semi-desperate, last-minute lesson with a teaching pro he’d never heard of or met before…with a new caddie who’d only been on the bag for five weeks…and only knowing for sure that he was capable of greatness…but only after having the whole thing drawn out by a 2½-hour weather delay.
And the greatness of D.A Points and the greatness of golf is that that is exactly what happened. He matter-of-factly rolled that putt dead in the hole and exploded in a victory roar.
And it was all sort of funny, because as the days passed by since we first found out about his mom’s putter, he had sort of faded as one of the possible winners, shooting 71, 71 in the middle rounds after a blazing 64 in the first. It wasn’t until the final scores were in that we realized that he’d quietly shot a 6-under 66 to get to 16-under and a 1-shot victory over Henrik Stenson and Billy Horschel.
For their parts, Stenson punched his ticket to the Masters with his rise in the World Rankings and Horschel extended his Tour-leading Consecutive Cuts Made to 20.
The trip wire for Points was the 3rd hole. That’s when he knew that things were…okay.
And then on 3, I hit two good shots and made a 25-footer and was like, okay, the putter feels good, swing was starting to feel good, and I played really, really solid. I mean, just — I felt like I was playing great.
Not that I was making everything, not that I was hitting it two feet from the hole every time, but I was hitting it kind of where I needed to hit it and where I wanted to hit it. I was making good decisions and hitting good chips and pitches and solid putts. I was just playing really, really good golf.
But what sort of teed this whole thing up was a desperate, last-minute lesson with a teaching pro from Lamar University he had never met before. What would possess a Tour pro to do such a thing? Well, among other things, missing 7 of 9 cuts so far this year and knowing that his two-year exemption from his Pebble Beach win was running out:
I was struggling. I mean, when you’re not putting good and you’re not hitting it good, when you’re not playing well, you know — and the things that he was saying at first I wasn’t in love with, but I knew that what he was saying wasn’t wrong, and I decided, well, what I’ve been doing right now isn’t getting it done. It’s certainly not going to hurt me to try something different.
This is what is known as being an adult: honestly appraising reality and then boldly stepping out in new directions rather than staying wallowing and stuck. And it was the same with his putting:
And this putting style or this stroke and the things I’m thinking about aren’t completely foreign. I’ve thought about this stuff before. So, when I got out there and started doing it, it wasn’t like, “Oh, wow, I feel like I’m putting left-handed.” It was something I had done before. It’s just been several years since I thought about it.
This is another affliction of even the most active golfers, forgetting what you were doing that worked yesterday. The reason for that is that there is a daisy chain of thoughts and feelings that a player cycles through in search of the secret. Because of the searching, you never feel that you’re done, that what you have is sufficient. And so you traipse through the light fantastic, always looking for that next thing, the one thing, and forgetting what you had taken for granted in the process. And what Points had taken for granted was an essential fundamental:
He was just trying to get me — when I was hitting my putts originally, I was adding too much loft at impact. I was kind of releasing the club too early.
So he was kind of getting me to put a little bit different energy into the ball. I feel like I’m almost hitting down on it, and with that, the ball started rolling real tight. My “hit” got a little more consistent. I stopped missing putts to the left, and, I mean, when I hit good putts this week, the line on my ball rolled so tight, it just looked like it was going to dive in the hole.
Because he’s only won once on Tour, you might think that his primary concern was trying to keep his card somehow, either through a second and validating win or finishing Top-25 on the money list to buy himself another year. And he was trying to ensure that he had a job for the next year. But he also had a big enough sense of himself that he was always had the Masters on his radar:
I never not think it’s on my radar. You know, again, I want to win. I want to win more than once. I want to have the opportunity to win majors and win majors, I want to play in Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups. These are things I want to do and I know I’m capable of doing.
So I never doubt that I can do it. I certainly get down and frustrated when I make 2 of 9 cuts. That’s not making you feel real great about yourself. Again, I never thought that I wasn’t going to make it. I just thought this is an opportunity and just like next week, I signed up for next week [in San Antonio] — I wasn’t sure if I was going to go and then I thought well, I’m playing pretty good this week. Let’s see if I can kind of get on a little bit of a roll, so I signed up for next week as well.
Even though there was so much riding on that final putt, there was a lot about it that was comforting:
Again, probably a ball outside the right and I knew it was downhill, down grain, and it was a great putt to have because I knew that I didn’t have to hit the putt. I could just make a good stroke, get the ball started somewhat on line and hopefully gravity would take it the rest of the way.
But more important, he found an attitude about the putt that calmed him and allowed him to stay deeply in the act of just hitting a good putt:
But I was just saying to myself, I mean, literally right up until I pulled it back, whatever happens, happens. Whatever happens, happens, just so that I could be — just to try to take it off myself.
It’s not like I don’t want to make it. It’s not like I’m not trying to make it. If I hit a good putt and it goes, that’s what’s supposed to happen. If I don’t — the fortunate thing, too, I probably two-putt and, worse case scenario, I got a playoff and I still got a chance to win. It was nice to get it done right away, but I’m very proud that I made it.
Ever wonder how anybody can play with all the distractions Bill Murray brings to his foursome at Pebble Beach and still keep their wits about them? Points recounts not only how nervous you can get coming down the stretch, but also how Murray’s levity was very helpful in making it to his first win:
I always reference one big point on the 16th green at Pebble. I hit a horrible tee shot off the tee and I hit a 5-iron short of the green and I kind of chunk it around and chip up and got like a 5-footer for par.
My caddie looks at me, “How are you feeling?”
I’m like, “I’m freaking out. I feel awful. I’m so nervous.”
He’s like, “Oh.” He didn’t know.
And so I’m sitting there and shaking and trying to figure out some way to relax and to calm myself down, and Bill had like a 40-footer for par.
I look over at Bill and say, “Hey, the whole crowd came here to watch you make this putt so why don’t you roll it in?” He laughed, because that’s what he says to me over just about every putt.
So I turned it around on him. It was just enough of that to kind of break the tension. I calmed down, I rolled in the putt and then went on to par the last two [for the win].
And that gave him a direction for how he wanted to get through this day:
So what I kind of came up with today was I would just get a really cheesy grin to my caddie because as it’s been noted that I can be hard on myself and I don’t do as much smiling on the golf course as I probably should.
So, every time he was looking at me, I’d kind of look at him with this big, cheesy grin. He would start laughing and I would instantly laugh. That was just enough of the stuff to break the tension.
Like he was talking to me about going on canoeing trips walking down the 18th fairway. I mean, he’s — Travis and I are newly together and he actually played on the PGA Tour in 2008 and he’s a really good caddy and a really good guy, and I’m happy for him almost as I am for me.
And once you are able to get yourself into that peaceful, tensionless place, if you just leave it alone, it can even carry you through a weather delay:
Before that rain delay, I was cooking. Like I was everything was good, my swing felt great, my distance control felt really good, and in the whole time that we were on that delay, I kept trying to tell myself we were going back out and say, “Wow, I still feel really good. Even if we don’t go out, it’s okay.”
But, I mean, [after the delay] I still feel really good, I’m playing great. Still got a chance. I was trying to have four good birdie putts coming in and I had one and a half good birdie putts going in, but, nevertheless, it was enough to get it done.
Proving definitively that sometimes one and a half birdie putts can be as good as four…but that those kinds of thin margins can also cause you to feel like you’re losing your mind.
And that’s why they pay them boys the big bucks.