Number crunching: Walking the ‘Plank

Editor’s Note: While some players flourished in 2008, others floundered. Golfweek dissects the numbers behind their rise – or fall – in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings.

• MOVING UP: Matt Weibring
• MOVING UP: Karlsson/Mallinger/McPherson
• MOVING DOWN: Verplank/Lee
• MOVING DOWN: Castrale/Henry/Summerhays

• Scott Verplank

WHY THE FALL? Putting, putting and putting. Verplank is a rarity in that he has used the same putter – a Ping Anser with gauze tape on the grip – from his amateur golf days throughout his pro career, and the five-time winner has been one of the PGA Tour’s best putters over the past two decades. For instance, he ranked eighth in putting average in 2002, seventh in ’03, 11th in ’04 and ninth in ’05.

This year, a hot final week at the Children’s Miracle Network Classic at Walt Disney World, where he tied for the 54-hole lead, vaulted him from 72nd to 47th in putting average. But that’s misleading because he ranked 164th in total putting, a statistic based on six categories related to various putting distances. That means he rarely took advantage of his driving accuracy (sixth, 73.57 percent). He ranked low on putts made from inside 5 feet (105th), 5-10 feet (180th), 10-15 feet (136th), 15-20 feet (115th), 20-25 feet (193rd) and was 185th in average distance of putts made.

He was so frustrated that he started practicing with five or six different putters and wondered whether he would ever rediscover his stroke. He said Disney marked the first time he thought he had putted well since mid-February. He credited the eleventh-hour improvement to changing his grip and hand position.

VERPLANK SAYS: “I’ve been out here 22 years and this has been by far the worst putting year I’ve ever had. So I’ve been working on position, width of your stance, how tall you stand, how much you crouch over, where your left hand is, where your right hand is, where your head is. What else is there? There’s been lots of times when I would just as soon throw that putter in the lake, particularly here in the last six months.”

– Jeff Rude

• Sarah Lee

WHY THE FALL? Injury. Pain in Lee’s left elbow and left wrist kept her from working full sessions on the range and caused her to lose distance on the course.

“My confidence level was going down because I couldn’t practice well,” Lee said.

In 2007, Lee played in 26 LPGA events and finished 20th on the money list, with seven top 10s. Her injury flared up at the beginning of this year and grew worse as the season progressed, causing her to miss five consecutive cuts in the summer.

Lee, 29, received treatment on her injuries up to five times per week and played only 18 official events.

She failed to post a top-20 finish and fell to 124th on the money list ($72,679). In October, Lee returned to South Korea to get ready for the Lexus Cup. Team Asia’s captain, Se Ri Pak, told Lee that she’d be a captain’s pick and couldn’t quit working.

Looking ahead, Lee wants to adjust her schedule and her mood. When she returns home to Orlando, Fla., in the offseason, she plans to work with the always-upbeat Gary Gilchrist.

After she gets some rest, of course.

LEE SAYS: “That’s why I think I got the injury, from practicing so hard and playing on grass that was not soft. Maybe that’s what I learn from (this) year. I will play maybe four weeks and rest, then four and rest.”

– Beth Ann Baldry

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