Kevin Na has only ever cracked open one of those extensive green-reading books once in his career.
Na required a birdie-eagle finish on the 17th hole at Waialae Country Club last year to score 59 in the third round of the Sony Open. He sized up his 10-footer, glanced at the book, altered his read, struck the ball, and… missed. He settled for a 61 and went on to win the tournament.
“It didn’t work out,” Na said on Thursday, “so it was the last time I saw it.”
Of course, Kenny Harms, Na’s veteran caddie, used the book to double-check his first read – or at least he did before the PGA Tour imposed a local regulation prohibiting the use of green-reading materials.
The Sentry Tournament of Champions’ first round on Thursday marked the start of the Tour’s new normal, with players and caddies restricted to committee-approved books that provide generic information about slopes and other features. The rule, which took effect on Jan. 1, was intended to ensure that reading putts was the result of ability, judgment, and feel, as well as quality preparation, rather than just provided material.
Handwritten notes will be permitted, but they must be limited to observations made on the course or during the event webcast. There are no devices that can be utilized to obtain the data.
The majority of players contacted after the first round — particularly those who had a good start at Kapalua – praised the move, which was approved by the PGA Tour Policy Board.
Joel Dahmen, who won the Puntacana Championship last year, remarked, “I probably bury my head in them too much as it is.” “I don’t use them at home, and I putt OK, so there’s no reason for me to have them out here.”
“I’m excited for it,” said Talor Gooch, the current FedExCup leader. I utilize green-reading books, although I believe they were a hindrance at times, and I perform best when I think and calculate less. I strive to react quickly, and not having any greens books helps me do that.
“No. 2 in the world” Collin Morikawa called the change away from green-reading books “dramatic,” despite the fact that he had been using them frequently for several years, including while at Cal. Morikawa and Brooks Koepka said they utilized the books not only to read putts, but also to figure out where to hit approach shots given the green’s slopes and contours.
The new rule requires the player and caddy to prepare honestly, without relying on information from their previous books. It remains to be seen how this will be implemented. Will a Tour rules official go over a player’s notes to make sure they’re genuine? Will a player snitch on a teammate if he’s caught with a level late in practice? Will the first player to come to a standstill on the greens, his head buried in his book, be suspected right away?
One thing is certain: Caddies will be given even more responsibilities in the run-up to the event. This year, instead of arriving on Tuesdays at a known location, they may arrive on Mondays and begin sketching out the green complexes.
“The caddie has a bit more job on Tuesday and Wednesday to get the slopes and grain out there,” Dahmen said.
Bryson DeChambeau appears to be the player who will be most affected by the new rule. In 2019, it was his systematic approach on the greens that drew the wrath of Koepka, and DeChambeau has been known to spend hours each week with various devices and aids. Despite finishing in the top 35 putters on Tour each of the past four seasons, DeChambeau’s detractors have pointed out that he has yet to place in the top 10 at the Masters, the only tournament that does not allow the use of greens books. He stated that not having the books makes it “a lot harder” in the 2020 Masters.
“At the end of the day, I still rely on my intuition the majority of the time,” he admitted at the time. “I look at something and say, ‘OK, that kind of looks like this.’ The moments when my intuition has lined up with reality and what it’s actually doing have been the occasions when I’ve putted the best because (the books) can be wrong.”
DeChambeau, who started the week with a 4-under 69 at Kapalua, has yet to speak to the media this week.
Some of the finest putters on Tour, including Na, Jordan Spieth, and Cameron Smith, have shown interest in seeing if they will have an even greater advantage on the greens after the regulations change in 2022.
“I believe that when it comes to putting, you have to read it well, put a stroke on it, and hit it at the right speed,” Spieth said. “I thought the green-reading materials took away one of those three talents, and I believe it’s a skill that gives me an advantage, so I’m excited to see what that can mean in terms of strokes gained compared to the field on the greens.”