by Lewine Mair
When the umbrellas came down, the putters came out and one professional after another was working with the latest gadget and/or his putting coach by way of preparing for tomorrow's opening round in the WGC-HSBC Champions at Sheshan. In the case of Jim Furyk, who is currently using a belly-putter, the gadget in question was a long piece of string.
Furyk pinned the cord about six inches above ground along the line he needed to hit his putt which, in the case of the 10-footer which had pride of place, was a good six inches to the left. Sometimes he putted with the string between himself and the ball, sometimes with the string behind his feet. A great man for holing a pressure-laden six-footer in his hey-day, Furyk has struggled on the greens this season, with his putting largely responsible for the fact that he was the last man into this exclusive field.
Apparently, the 2003 US Open champion also has a five-yard stretch of rope which, like Aaron Baddeley, he stretches out on the range by way of ensuring that he is swinging through the ball on the requisite line.
While everyone was studying Furyk, Alvaro Quiros walked on to the putting green with his back hunched to the point where he looked as if he had done himself a serious mischief. In fact, this fun-loving Spaniard was merely conveying to his putting coach and his caddie that he was prepared to start work bent over his particular practising gadget - a long stick which he places across his body and under his arms. "It's how he gets his shoulders working,"said Mikey Kerr, his South African bag-carrier.
Peter Hanson, the Ryder Cup man, was beginning to feel a tad lost without his old-fashioned carpenter's extending ruler. "You don't see too many of them around nowadays," said the Swede, "but it's perfect for checking whether or not my feet and shoulders are properly aligned. It has a series of hinges and I can fold it up into nothing when I'm not using it."
Francesco Molinari, the defending champion, is among those who will sometimes work with a Puttercup, a device which sits in the hole and reduces its size by way of encouraging greater accuracy. Today, though, Molinari was in no position to embark on any kind of repetitive practice, having pulled out of the pro-am because of a problem with his right wrist. The trouble has its origins in a trapped nerve but the Italian is confident that he will be teeing up tomorrow in defence of his title. "It was mostly a matter of not wanting to make anything any worse," said the player.
Keegan Bradley, the US PGA champion, may not bring any special contraption to bear on the green but he has a definite routine with his long putter. It is one of hiking up his shirt, ensuring that the end of his putter is firmly in his belly-button, albeit on top of the said shirt, before double-checking on his grip.
That done, he hits the putt without pausing for a practice swing - and it works.
Pete Cowen, in marking Bradley's putting out of ten, gave the American nine-and-a-half. "Others will often look surprised when they make a putt but Keegan looks disappointed when he doesn't," said the coach.