Rarely has a lost piece of luggage had such a profound impact. Normally, when an airline misplaces a bag – an occurrence that seems far more common than normal these days – the anxiety makes it hard to focus on anything else. Jessica Korda felt it when she arrived at the AIG Women’s Open while her clothes remained in Zurich. Other players tweeted about missing golf bags with a tournament just hours away. It’s a nightmare, a nightmare that LPGA Tour pros know all too well.
But for Paula Reto, a lost golf bag led to one of the most remarkable transformations in recent memory.
Reto, a nine-year veteran of the LPGA Tour who had never won and only managed six top-10 finishes in her career before arriving at the CP Women’s Open, drew consecutive rounds of 67 over the weekend at Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club to finish 19 under par, good enough for a one-shot win over Nelly Korda and Hye-Jin Choi.
But the win itself wasn’t the only transformative aspect of the week, although it was wonderful to see such a universally loved and respected player finally break through. The standout part was watching someone known to insiders as a mediocre putter turn into Inbee Park overnight.
For some perspective, Reto came to Canada ranked 87th on the LPGA Tour in putts per green in regulation. A few weeks this season, she’s averaged more than two putts per hole, a number that would be mediocre by amateur standards. There were times when watching her routine was painful, the mechanics so deliberate and technical that you wondered if she understood the concept of sensation.
Then, just like that, in Canada, she averaged 27 putts per round, a number that does it the most often. The ones she missed, even by 40-50 feet, seemed to have a chance to get in until the last roll. His speed was extraordinary, with many putts falling into the hole at the speed of a snail. It reminded Ben Crenshaw in his heyday. As unlikely as it was, every green she touched was a birdie opportunity.
So how did this happen? And what does this have to do with luggage?
Reto explained. “I lost my bags in Ireland (after the ISPS Handa World Invitational) and didn’t get my bag for a whole week,” she said. “I was at home trying to practice, so I pulled out an older putter that I had.”
But it was more than a new look at an old friend. There was physiology involved.
“This putter is a little straighter, so my eyes are a little more over the ball, and I made some changes where my eyes are a little more over the ball,” Reto said. “I think it just makes a difference. I was able to see my lines a little better because my eyesight was a bit off.
Seeing the line is like magic. When this happens, a good putter knows the ball is going in before it makes a full rotation. It’s like a yellow brick road laid out in front of you. All you need is to roll the ball over this line.
Sightline also improves speed control. When you can see the line, your mind instinctively calculates the speed needed to keep the ball on it.
This is the athletic aspect of putting. It’s not technical. This is how athleticism translates into sensations.
It also makes the rest of the game easier. According to Crenshaw, who has long been in conversation as perhaps the best putter who ever lived, “Once you know you can putt any distance, you don’t feel like you have to attack every flag with your approaches. And once you know you don’t have to hit the flag every time, you’re more free to swing the driver.
It was Reto’s week in a nutshell. Her swing seemed slightly out of sync on Saturday when she missed more fairways by a wider margin than at any other time in the week. But the putter turned out to be his secret weapon. And with the certainty of knowing she would birdie or have stress-free pars, she swung better than ever on Sunday, finding the middle of most fairways and the center of many greens. She birdied five of the first nine in the final round, some short and one nearly 60 feet. Then she did some deft ups and downs – none better than on the 17th where she hit perfect ground from the approximate left of the green – and rolled an 18-footer onto the final green within 18 inches.
“Yeah, that (the airline fiasco) forced me to use that putter,” Reto said. “I’m really glad I did. Maybe there’s a reason for the lost bags.