Boo’s got game, preserves game
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour
Boo in his natural habitat

Boo in his natural habitat on Tuesday (photo courtesy of his swing instructor Scott Hamilton)

Boo Weekley kicked off the first round of the Honda Classic in the dark — literally — teeing off at 6:45am. He bogeyed the first two holes at the difficult (and soggy) PGA National, but the cloudy morning started to brighten up on No. 6, when he got his putter rolling and rattled off six birdies to shoot a solid four-under 68.

The hard work he’s spent in the last few weeks on his putting stroke — in between his fishing — clearly paid off on Thursday morning.

In the last few years it’s been no secret that Boo’s weakness has been on the greens. His coach Scott Hamilton found two things that have helped Boo, a member of the 2008 victorious U.S. Ryder Cup team, improve his rhythm and fluidity with the flatstick.

First, they spent some time with SAM PuttLab and discovered that the fastest part of his stroke was after he made contact with the ball, which made him “pop” it at impact.

Hamilton read an article that said if you have speed issues when you’re doing athletic things, the solution is to silence your thoughts on mechanics and feel more natural.

“We’ve just been trying to find some small things in and out that can help me and the thing is, pacing my putters, the way I stroke the ball, it’s slowing my putter face down a little bit to keep me from popping it and getting my right hand involved and breathing a little bit,” said Boo, who is tied for 6th, trailing first-round leader Camilo Villegas by two.

“Kind of like when I’m shooting my guns long range; I have to take a deep breath and excel and blow it out and then pull the trigger. And that’s what we try to work on a little bit, my coach has helped me on that side of it to get me to realize, get it more natural where it just flows instead of just sitting there, you tense up.”

Second, Hamilton created a practice putting aid to take some pressure of Boo’s right hand through his stroke.

“I got a putter and cut the grip off,” said Hamilton, whose client list on the PGA Tour also includes Steven Bowditch and Will Claxton, among others. “I made the only part of the grips on his left hand and I put his fingers on the shaft. You know how when you chip you get your hands on the metal? So I did that to the putter. He only put his left hand on the grip and his right hand on the metal and it got the throw out of there. He could feel it better.”

In short: He’s trying to exhale and have a fluid, constant acceleration through the putt while softening up on the pressure of his grip with his right hand.

Boo’s best finish at the Honda Classic since it moved to PGA National in 2007 came that year when he yipped a short putt to secure the outright win in regulation.

“I got fond memories of here,” he said. “I’ve got one bad one but other than that, it’s all good. But really it wasn’t a bad one.

“I just choked. That’s the bottom line of it. I have a 3-footer to win and I just choked. All I had to do was 2-putt from 30 feet and I just choked.”

Heading into the 72nd hole in 2007, Boo just needed a par to clinch the title. As he described, he missed a 3-footer on 18 and ended up in a four-way playoff that Mark Wilson went on to win in a Monday finish.

Boo’s candor and congenial personality make him easy to get along with anyone — and not just people. As you know and can see in the photo above, he fishes every waking moment that he’s not eating or throwing back Miller Lites, and fitting in some golf. Boo has a way with nature and its creatures, even alligators.

Growing up in the panhandle of Florida, he’s been around gators his entire life and spent time listening to them. He even knows how to — I kid you not because I’ve heard him do it — make an alligator call, which he demonstrated as he walked by a creature on the 15th hole. He wouldn’t do it for the scrum of reporters, but from what I recall, it sounds just like some sort of rendition of a bird call.

Naturally, Boo doesn’t discriminate between swamp critters that most people fear. He came to the rescue on the 5th hole, where a group of marshals were panicking over a moccasin snake slithering dangerously close to the green.

“If it would have been hotter, somebody could have stepped right by him and gotten bit,” said Boo. “I mean, he blended in right in by the grass. He wasn’t more than 18 inches long, but he was good enough that he could hit you if you were there.

“A guy came running up to us before we teed off and then when we got done, I told him not to worry about it because I moved it. I just turned over my driver and moved it.”

No big deal. Just another day in the world of Boo.

(Photo of Boo taken by Scott Hamilton on Tuesday just before he stepped out the back door to fish…)