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Contenders get a grip on odd putting styles

Calcavecchia, DiMarco and Mediate prefer good rolls over convention.

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 2001


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The looks they get might be enough to force a change. But professional golfers are playing for their livelihood, and they'd stand on their heads if it helped them get the ball in the hole. So an odd putting style is hardly a concern.

Chris DiMarco nearly quit before he went to the "claw" grip he is using. Mark Calcavecchia set a PGA Tour scoring record earlier this year, draining putts from everywhere, using the same technique. And Rocco Mediate started using a long putter when it was considered something for desperate seniors.

Maybe there is a method to their madness. Maybe the golfing masses will take notice and seek to improve their games through such unconventional means. All three players are in contention through three rounds at Augusta National, home to some of the game's trickiest greens.

Calcavecchia's 4-under-par 68 Saturday put him two behind third-round leader Tiger Woods; DiMarco shot 72 in the last group with Woods and was tied with Calcavecchia. And Mediate shot the day's best score, 66 that put him four out of the lead.

When Mediate, 38, first started using the long putter a decade ago, there were plenty of chuckles. "It was not looked at as something a professional would use," Mediate said. "My comment was always: "Kiss my a--. I'm trying to make a living. And if you've got to stop me, you better do something so I don't get back up.' And no one really bothered me after that.

"Other guys started using it. And now they are going to the mid-length putters. It definitely saved my back. That's why I do it still."

Using a conventional putter and hitting hours of practice putts had Mediate doubled over in pain. The long putter allows him to stand upright. And it gives him confidence.

"When I miss one, I'm shocked right now," he said. "Before, I made one and I was shocked. Believe me, I know I'm going to miss. You don't make them all."

But he and his unconventional counterparts certainly make their share. DiMarco, 32, a Masters rookie from Orlando, stood up nicely to the challenge of playing alongside Woods.

He uses a regular putter but puts his right (lower) hand on the putter like a player who uses a long putter. His right hand is actually placed upside down, compared with a conventional method.

"We are all searching sometimes," DiMarco said. "When I first did it, I thought maybe it was just something I'd do for a while. Well, after six years, this is obviously my conventional way to putt."

Calcavecchia, 40, started using the method last year after having seen fellow University of Florida alum DiMarco have success with it. He tried it for the first time at the 2000 Players Championship, made three putts in a row during a round and was hooked.

"I had a case of the yips, especially on short ones," Calcavecchia said. "Anything outside of 18 inches was 50-50. That's about how bad it was. I was twitchy and I could feel it. With this, I just had this big ol' grin on my face because I knew I had pretty much found my putting grip."

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