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New Training Device Helps Golfers Hone Putting Ability; PGA Tour caddie Mike Hicks among Developers Of 'The Big Putt'


January 8, 2009. Mike Hicks has seen plenty of big putts in his two-decade career as a caddie on the PGA Tour, most notably the 15-footer that Payne Stewart made on the final green of the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 to edge Phil Mickelson by one shot.

"Putting's the name of the game," Hicks says. "Think of any great player in the game and you can remember a big putt he made to win a major - whether it's Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson or Jack Nicklaus or any of them."

It's apropos that Hicks use the name "The Big Putt" for a new golf training device he and fellow entrepreneur and noted amateur golfer Danny Gurley have developed to help golfers make more big putts of their own.

"The putting green is the fastest way to lower scores," says Hicks, who caddied 12 years for Stewart prior to the golfer's tragic death in 1999. "Anyone can improve their putting. Someone might not be physically capable of hitting it 10 more yards. But they can make more putts."

Gurley is a top amateur golfer in the Carolinas and has won the North Carolina Mid-Amateur Championship twice (2002 and '05). He notes that nearly 50 percent of the game is played on the putting green, so an investment of practice time or new equipment dollars is far more productive with the putting component of the game.

"You can buy a new wedge, but how many times will you use it?" Gurley asks. "You putt on every green, usually at least two times a hole. That's where lower scores are."

The Big Putt is a golf ball constructed of standard materials that 35 percent larger than regulation (it is 1.95 inches in diameter compared to a regulation ball of 1.68 inches). By practicing putts from two to eight feet with the oversize ball, a golfer develops confidence that carries over to the golf course when using the smaller regulation ball.

"Golf is all about repetition," Hicks says, noting that one PGA Tour player he has caddied for always makes an 18-inch putt on the practice green as his last action before going to the first tee. "He wants to see that short putt go into the hole. He wants to carry that positive thought and feel and image to the golf course. That's what you get from The Big Putt."

Adds Gurley: "You visualize the ball going in the hole after using The Big Putt. It makes a wider track toward the hole. When you get onto the golf course, you see that image with the regulation ball and it improves your confidence."

The oversize ball also entices a golfer into accelerating through the putt and reducing the chances of missing short putts by decelerating at the ball. "Guys who miss short putts have no backswing," Hicks says. "You have to make a backswing with The Big Putt. It's wider and bigger and forces you to accelerate through the ball."

Despite its larger size, The Big Putt has the same feel leaving the putter face as a regulation ball. "It feels just like a tournament-quality ball," says Hicks. "It's a real golf ball. It just doesn't have the dimples, which you don't need anyway if the ball's not in the air. It was important that this ball not feel like a rock or feel like a sponge. It had to feel exactly like a real golf ball to work and it does that."

Former U.S. Open champion and Ryder Cup veteran Jim Furyk is among top professionals who have added The Big Putt to their practice regimens. Furyk can remember as a junior golfer a drill where he used a tennis ball on the putting green. The idea was that if you can develop precision with an oversize ball, then the hole appears to have increased in size when you return to a regulation ball.

"It's great practice," Furyk says. "The hole shrinks down and it makes you concentrate more. I think it's a good tool. If you use it for five or 10 minutes a day I think it's going to really help your putting."

The Big Putt is being distributed by Big Golf Ball Inc., a North Carolina corporation headed by Hicks, who lives in Mebane, and Gurley, who lives in Chapel Hill, and will be promoted with a 30-second commercial to run on the Golf Channel. A sleeve of three balls will sell for $29.95; included is series of practice drills.

"The guy who wins on Tour each week isn't missing from five feet in," Hicks says. "Tiger Woods once made 51 straight from seven feet in one week. There's only one Tiger, but anyone can get better on short putts."

Adds Gurley: "Golf is so much feel and is so much mental. If you stand over a four-foot putt and think you're going to make it, you probably will. After practicing with The Big Putt, the hole will look six inches wide and you absolutely will make that putt."

Hicks caddied on the PGA Tour in recent years for Jonathan Byrd before moving to the Champions Tour to pick up Scott Hoch's bag. He's used his time on both tours to introduce The Big Putt to the professionals and has gotten excellent feedback. Billy Andrade and Peter Jacobsen are among golfers now using the oversized balls in their practice routines.

"I like to give myself an extra 10 minutes now and head straight to the putting green and hit a bunch of putts with The Big Putt around the hole-three, four and 10-footers-and get a feel for it," says Andrade, a 20-year veteran of the PGA Tour. "Then I hit a couple with my normal golf ball. I just think it's fabulous. It's a fabulous, fabulous product."

"This might be one of the most unique inventions I have seen in golf in the last 20 years," says Jacobsen, a seven-time winner on the PGA Tour. "It feels the same as a regular golf ball, it looks the same, it rolls the same. But it changes the illusion and makes the hole look smaller. It really focuses your attention on rolling the ball right for the hole."

Orders are being taken by calling toll-free 1-888-4-BIGPUTT or by visiting www.thebigputt.com.