KINGSPORT — The way Cliff Kresge figured, his putting called for drastic measures. So he did something about it.
Kresge has done an about face — literally — in trying to combat the yips. He’s putting left-handed these days.
“Everybody I’ve talked to said if you get the yips, you have to change something,” he said. “This is pretty drastic.”
Kresge says his scores should have been much lower last year, his first on PGA Tour Champions, with the way he was hitting the ball. So he went all-in with about as extreme a change as he could think of.
While talking about his new putting plan during a recent casual round at Ridgefields Country Club, Kresge showed the results. Putting with a smooth left-handed stroke, he made a few curling 20-foot birdie putts and several others while shooting 65 in a round that required little concentration on his part.
“I definitely made a few putts that I maybe wouldn’t make every day,” he said. “That ends up turning a 70 or 71 into a 65. And that separates the men from the boys because it’s really hard to ball-strike your way into a 65.
“I feel like when I play full time, I give myself a chance to shoot in the mid-60s every time I play. If I make putts, I will. If I don’t, I won’t. This reiterates the fact that what I’m doing left-handed is good. It’s just the right thing to do right now.”
If Kresge had putted on tour last year the way he putted at Ridgefields, he would have been playing on the weekend with Bernhard Langer instead of a sports writer and the club’s owner.
Putting left-handed isn’t entirely new to Kresge. When the yips — the sudden inability to make a smooth stroke — began to creep into his game about three years ago, he brought out a Bullseye putter, the kind that has a putting face on both sides.
“I missed like a 10-footer on the first hole and then I left my first putt on a par-five 10 or 12 feet short and I said ‘That’s it,’ ” he said. “So I turned around left-handed, made that putt and went on to shoot five under. I didn’t putt too good the next day. I made a check, but nothing great.”
He putted that way for the rest of the year, but a couple of poor putting days allowed doubt to creep into his mind and he went back to putting right-handed.
Now he’s back as a lefty and the stroke looks solid. He doesn’t change his grip, so in effect, he’s putting cross-handed as a lefty.
“I don’t think I’m going to be as good a putter as I once was right-handed, but this gives me a chance to make putts,” he said. “That takes a lot of pressure off the rest of my game if I can make putts.
“I’ve hit bad putts, but I haven’t yipped a left-handed one yet. I’m going to hit some bad ones, but it’s nothing like trying to hit a putt with a yip. It’s hard to explain.”
Those putts can mean a lot when purses on the 50-and-over tour are routinely more than $2 million.
Kresge made a little over $163,000 on tour last year. He says expenses — air fare, hotels, car rental and caddie fees — add up to between $4,000 and $5,000 a week.
“If you don’t make that, even though you’re guaranteed a check, it’s a loser,” he said. “Your caddie’s going to get more than you are. I had a couple weeks where my caddie made more than I did, which is not good.”
Kresge has plenty of experience playing with weekend golfers and amateurs with bad habits. Last year on the PGA Tour Champions he played in two pro-ams every other week.
“I just try to make sure they have a good time, make sure their experience is fun, tell a few jokes, a few stories about what’s happened on tour,” he said.
When asked what he sees most amateurs do wrong, he mentioned the phrase “PGA.” And it wasn’t in the context of Professional Golfers of America.
“I think fundamentals are so important when it comes to amateurs,” he said. “They say PGA stands for posture, grip and alignment, and if you’ve got those three things fundamentally sound, you’re in good shape. If you’re poorly aligned you have to make a bad swing to hit a good shot.”
Kresge saw plenty of that at Ridgefields on this day. When it was pointed out that one of his playing partners — the one writing about it — describes himself as a “self-taught golfer with a very poor teacher,” he was quick to respond.
“I’m a self-taught golfer too,” he said. “But maybe I had a better teacher.”