After a couple of years spent bothering the world’s leaderboards, Martin Laird broke through on Sunday to claim a top-tier PGA Tour victory (no offence, JT). A closing round of 75 mightn’t look like much on paper, but on a tough layout that was getting tougher by the hour, the Scot managed to avert scoring catastrophe on several occasions and, most importantly, keep his head while all around were losing theirs.
Nowhere was Laird’s lucidity more apparent than on the eighteenth, where questionable club selection off the tee left him with an awkward approach shot from a poor lie. Dampening all feelings of obligation, he played to the front-left portion of the green, leaving himself with a mammoth two-putt for victory. It was a moment of nearly hieratic asceticism made all the more impressive by what followed: a confident putt that arced all of ninety feet around the cresent of Bay Hill’s final green (‘It’s not a tough putt,’ farted Johnny Miller in the commentary booth), finally settling two-feet below the hole. Mission accomplished.
While I still carry a near-pathological loathing of the belly putter and think it should be banned (anchoring a fulcrum is very different from holding one in place, a la the broomhandle!), I can’t but respect Laird for his win, which comes as the crowning achievement in a career founded on a diligence.
His birthplace does carry something of a symbolic weight, just not in the way Jim Nantz would have you believe. While his syrupy voice was slurring something about ‘the cradle of golf,’ the more geographically aware would have twigged that Laird in fact hails from Glasgow, a gritty, golfing desert in the larger oasis that is Scotland. But a bit like that of his home city, Laird’s appeal is grounded in a refreshingly lack of sentimentality– a calculating approach to the business of getting the ball in the hole (insert joke about shrewd and/or frugal Scots here). Take this exchange from his post-round press conference, for example:
“Q. The guys from the British Isles are known for playing a low, running ground game. You’re the opposite with a high fade. Is that something you’ve always had or did you develop it when you came to America?
MARTIN LAIRD: No, when I first came over here, I hit it really low. I just hit a low draw, kind of a low, trap draw that a lot of guys from Scotland play. I think going to school in Colorado, when I went out there, and a lot of the guys on our team were from Colorado and all hit it into orbit, because you want to do that there so the ball goes farther. I think that helped me. I gradually started hitting it higher and higher and.
Now I’ve gone from hitting it really low to one of the highest ball flights on TOUR. When you are playing a golf course like this with greens this firm, you need to hit it as high as you can. You just can’t hold greens like 17 if you can’t hit it way up in the air. I mean, I even hit it — that 6-iron I hit on 17 today was way up in the air, and it still didn’t hold the green.
It’s definitely what you need to have over here to play majors and tough golf courses like this, which is really set up like a major.
Q. Parts of your swing, a weak your grip — were those things it you developed for hitting it high yourself?
MARTIN LAIRD: No. I think just over time, I’m just gradually hitting it higher; just playing in Colorado and playing U.S.-style golf courses and not playing in much wind.
I went — I guess it was a battle my last year in college, and from then, I’ve always hit it high. It’s not something I’ve consciously worked on. It’s just something, to play better golf in the States on tough golf courses I had to start hitting it higher.”
The question now, of course, is one of progression and, specifically, just how much further the Scot is capable of taking his game. One would have to assume that more victories lie on the horizon, but is there a major in his future? If so, can it be won with a belly putter in the bag? Comments below, please.