Date: November 17, 2016
Author: Mike Clayton

CLAYTON: Tale of two failings


Peter O’Malley must tire of constant references to his less than stellar putting.

At his best he was one of the most reliable hitters from tee to green, rarely missing the targets and hitting with a crisp, divot free strike. He was never a long hitter but in the age of wood and balata no one needed to be in order to make a handsome living. Maybe you weren’t going to beat Seve or Greg but O’Malley won enough to show a constant stream of good shots would be rewarded so long as the putting was a little better than just competent.

Probably his best day was at Gleneagles in the foot of the Scottish Highlands when he set himself for a nice finish with only a few holes to play. Either Colin Montgomerie and Nick Faldo was going to win but O’Malley made a ridiculous stream of putts all the way in from the 14th and beat them both. When his thirty-five footer crashed into the hole on the 72nd green for an eagle he’d played the last five holes in seven under par. In fairness they were not particularly hard holes but he was three or four better than anyone could have reasonably expected.

It was a window into what was possible if he made putts but more often than not he putted with almost no inspiration or flair. It just wasn’t in his nature but few men played more holes by driving into the centre of the fairway, hitting irons to fifteen or twenty feet and two putting.

Only the great players – Woods, Nicklaus being the most obvious – seem to be blessed with both the hitting gene and the putting gene. ‘Imagine’ we hear ‘if only Bob Charles could have putted for Peter O’Malley or Adam Scott could have hit for Aaron Baddeley’.

It doesn’t work that way as players develop their games using their strengths and getting by making their weakness somewhat proficient.

Baddeley himself was out with Scott and the winner in 1999 finished in a grinding 74.

He hit an awful weak block with a middle iron into the front bunker at the 14th and then he flared a 3 wood unimaginably far to the right on the 16th. He somehow escaped with a birdie and pars at the final two holes give him a chance to make the Friday night cut.

Since 1999 he has been through a stream of teachers, some famous and some not but if the number of greens a player hit in regulation is the measure of the ball-striking then he has been the poorest on the American Tour almost his whole career. To anyone who saw his play all those years ago it’s an unthinkable reality and it’s fortunate his putting has been his savior year after year.

Observers can think all they like about putting being the most important part of playing the tour but they would be wrong. It’s the best hitters who do the best week in and week out year after year. To win, of course, you always need some magic on the greens and the magic was too infrequent for O’Malley to be a prolific winner on the tour.

He slipped around just ahead of Baddeley and Scott in 68 finished off by a clumsy drive into the trees bogey at the last hole. He won’t win this week because the putter isn’t up to it but he is a throwback to an era when great power wasn’t a required asset to play competitive golf.