Thursday, September 16, 2010

Chung goes long to achieve major boost in his short game

Ted S. Warren AP at US Amateur
Stanford coach Conrad Ray might as well have asked David Chung to stand on his head on the No. 1 tee, walk backward down the fairway and wear a blindfold as he attempted to knock putts into the hole.

Use a long putter? Chung responded the way any self-respecting, image-conscious college golfer would - he wondered if his coach was out of his freakin' mind.

"Heck no, I don't want to be seen with that," Chung said, recalling his initial reaction. "I was embarrassed, because you associate a long putter with a 60-year-old guy with the yips. ... Once you get over the mental hurdle, having everyone rib you over using it, you realize anything that gets the ball in the hole faster is good."

This offers an instructive starting point in the story of Chung's wondrous summer of 2010. He won two prestigious amateur tournaments, the Western Amateur and the Porter Cup, and he reached the finals in the most prestigious event of all, last month's US Amateur outside Tacoma, Wash.

Chung's torrid run catapulted him into another realm. He will begin his junior season this week as the No. 2 college player in the nation, according to GolfWorld magazine, and he can expect to receive invitations to play in the Masters and U.S. Open next year, thanks to his runner-up finish in the U.S. Amateur.

It would be misleading to say all this stemmed from last year's decision to breathe deeply, shun vanity and try the long putter. But it also would be fair to call Ray's suggestion, and Chung's ultimate willingness to experiment, a landmark moment in Chung's evolution as a golfer.

Need for change

He always had been a good ball striker, but his putting occasionally abandoned him. His exasperation grew after the final round at the NCAA championships in May 2009, at the end of his freshman year, when he reached nearly every green in regulation and still shot 73.

Chung also struggled with a stiff back, and Ray knew the long putter would help in that regard. This all made sense to Chung, but he also heard the whispers once he started using it - other players asking if he had "serious problems," suggesting long putters should be banned, derisively saying they were for "old people."

It reached the point that Chung didn't want to bring the putter onto the practice green, where he might be spotted. Then he won his second tournament, the 2009 North & South Amateur, and suddenly some good-natured grief became a small impediment.

"It really gives you a feel for the pendulum stroke and straight lines," said Ray, who used a long putter during his days playing professionally. "I just encouraged David to give it a fair shake. Is it outside the box for most college kids? For sure. But if you can figure it out and get used to it, it's a superior way to putt."

Chung stitched together a strong sophomore season with his new putting style, pocketing four top-10 finishes and posting a team-best scoring average of 71.3. He was named Stanford's most valuable player and earned third-team All-America honors.

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