This will tell you how poorly Nick Watney was playing, and explains how much he needed help with his putting: At the PGA Championship earlier this month, he missed the cut and could only tie a Long Island club pro who was just shy of his 59th birthday.
It turns out that the scoreboard at Kiawah Island was not the last time Watney was connected to Darrell Kestner, director of golf at Deepdale Golf Club in Manhasset.
A mutual friend, Sam Reeves, suggested that while Watney was on Long Island for the Barclays playoff tournament at Bethpage Black, he should stop in and get a lesson from Kestner, a renowned teacher.
Two sessions later, and there Watney was Sunday night, barely holding in his emotions as he grabbed the crystal trophy.
His putting, on greens that proved fast and difficult, led him to a 2-under-par 69 Sunday, a 10-under finish and a three-stroke win over Brandt Snedeker. Also, Watney is the new leader in the FedEx Cup points standings for the four-stop playoffs, which will have a $10-million first prize.
“Since the playoffs have been formatted this way, this tournament has proven to be maybe the biggest of the four,” Watney said, after having played for a second day in the final group with Sergio Garcia and overturned Garcia’s two-stroke lead.
A disappointing year for Watney instantly turned into an outstanding one for the 31-year-old from Dixon, Calif. “I’m not really sure what to do right now, [I’m] just so excited and very, very proud,” he said.
Watney had known what to do Monday and again Saturday: visit Deepdale for putting tips.
“Mostly it was my setup. I was well back on my heels and the putter shaft was very flat and that caused me to kind of stroke in to out,” he said. “He got me a little bit more on the balls of my feet, and the putter tracks better now.”
The balance really helped Saturday, when the greens at the Black were so hard and quick that many players — Watney included — said they were either extreme or borderline unplayable.
“I really thought they were close to dead, to be honest,” Watney said, adding that the greens seemed to have been watered Sunday.
Garcia struggled with the more moderate green speeds, just missing putts on Nos. 4 and 7 that could have given him momentum.
“MetLife is the only one that has ‘if’ in life,” he said, quoting a commercial. “We don’t go with ifs here.”
Watney drew within one with a birdie on the par-5 seventh and took the lead for good on the par-3 eighth, where Garcia bogeyed. The eventual champion used his Kestner-aided stroke to sink a 29-foot downhill birdie putt.
The noise this weekend was pure New York metropolitan area. The crowd gave Garcia loud support, and didn’t even upset him when he waited deliberately to determine the wind direction on No. 17 and a fan yelled out asking if he could play through.
“I’m like, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to hit it. I’m just taking my time,’ ” Garcia said.
Watney, who hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation Sunday, also was propelled by the electricity.
“New York lived up to its name. They were pretty loud and boisterous,” he said.
But the decisive voice had been that of the soft-spoken Long Island golf pro who might deserve a cut of the $1.44-million first prize.
“I owe Darrell a lot,” Watney said. “We’ll have a great conversation.”