A Ray of Hope
For the first time since last July, Billy Ray Brown didn't have to clean out his locker and head to the airport on a Friday night. With rounds of 72-70 at the Greater Greensboro ( N.C.) Open, Brown broke a streak of 14 straight missed cuts. "It's been a long time coming," Brown said Friday afternoon at Forest Oaks Country Club. "It shows you that hard work does pay off." Brown finished up with rounds of 70 and 74 to earn $5,400.
The 32-year-old Brown was once touted as a potential star. He finished one stroke out of the Mike Donald-Hale Irwin playoff in the 1990 U.S. Open at Medinah, and he won the Greater Hartford Open in 1991 and the Byron Nelson Classic in 1 992. But a week after the Nelson he sustained ligament and cartilage damage to his left wrist while hitting a shot from the rough at Colonial Country Club. He aggravated the injury at the '93 Doral-Ryder Open, which caused him to miss 16 weeks of that season, and again a year ago at Greensboro. Brown missed 25 cuts in 27 tournaments in 1994.
"Last year on the 13th hole [at Forest Oaks], I hit a shot fat and it just put me to my knees," Brown says. "It killed me. It wasn't the pain that did it. It was more the ego, asking myself, Am I ever going to come back? If you don't have confidence in your game, you might as well put the clubs on the plane and go home."
Brown has done a lot of that over the last three seasons, but he felt a change coming four weeks ago at the Freeport McMoRan Classic in New Orleans, where he shot the worst opening-round score (83) and followed it up with a 66 on Friday. "A light just went on," Brown says. "[This week's Shell Houston Open] is home for me, and wouldn't it be great to start playing well for that tournament? But I can't get myself too excited. I took the game for granted once, and I almost lost it. I don't want that to happen again."
The Long and Short of It
Players will go to great, and sometimes not-so-great, lengths to improve their putting. Consider Vijay Singh, who recently switched from a 32-inch putter shaft to a 42-inch one, and Ken Green, who has taken to using his six-year-old son's 26-inch putter.
Until last week Singh felt as if he hadn't made a putt since he won the Phoenix Open in January. After missing the cut at the Masters and losing to Robert Allenby the following week in the first round of the Andersen Consulting World Championship of Golf, Singh decided it was time for a change. He remembered that he had putted well on a practice green when choking up on his driver and bracing the shaft against his left forearm, and decided that using a putter with a long shaft might improve his stroke. Singh missed the cut two weeks ago in the Heritage Classic while using his new technique, but it served him well in Greensboro, where he took 26 putts en route to an opening-round 65 that put him in a tie for the lead.
"It keeps my left wrist from breaking down," Singh said Thursday of the way he grips the new shaft. "It made me more confident. If I wasn't comfortable with it, I wouldn't take it on the course. You can't win if you don't putt well. When it stops going in the hole, you have to do something. I was throwing away too many shots." He threw away some more in the final round when, for some reason, he reverted to a 32-inch shaft and took 31 putts en route to a 73. Stay tuned.
Green was once one of the best putters on the PGA Tour, ranking fifth in 1988, when he was fourth on the money list. This year he would be next-to-last in putting if he had enough rounds to qualify for the rankings. The reason he doesn't is that he either missed the cut or withdrew in his first five tournaments. Green did make the cut at The Players Championship and the Heritage Classic—the first tournaments in which he used his son Hunter's 26-incher. "It's great inside eight feet," Green said of the putter at the Heritage, "but I've had problems with distance. I see this as no different from going cross-handed or to the long stick. When you're desperate, you'll try anything."