The Web.com Tour’s hottest golfer didn’t spend the days leading up to the Air Capital Classic grinding away on the range or practice green.
Instead, Michael Putnam took his family to Hawaii for seven days of snorkeling and surfing off Kauai.
“I’d set up this trip about three months ago,” Putnam said after getting his first and only pre-tournament look at Crestview Country Club during Wednesday’s pro-am. “I really had a good, relaxing week and just mentally refreshed myself for the rest of the year.”
Not exactly what Putnam’s fellow competitors probably wanted to hear. Putnam, the Web.com’s money leader and winner of the tour’s last two tournaments, leads a field of 156 golfers into Thursday’s first round of the newly named $650,000 tournament on Crestview’s North course.
After following his victory at the Mexico Open with another at the Mid-Atlantic Championship, the 30-year-old Putnam will try to become the first golfer in the Web.com’s 24-year history to win three consecutive events. Whether Putnam accomplishes the feat or not, he brings an earnings lead of almost $133,000 over No. 2 Edward Loar, who is playing in the U.S. Open this week at Merion.
“It’s rare for guys to win two weeks in a row out here,” said Putnam, who has already secured a PGA Tour card for the third time with $354,234 in season earnings. “There are so many good players out here that even if you play well, you’re not going to win every tournament. But to do it two weeks in a row, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Few players have come to Crestview riding a better wave. Putnam, a towering presence at 6-foot-4, has four other top-10 finishes to go with his victories and has made the weekend cut in nine of 11 tournaments.
“I’ve been hitting the ball where I’ve been looking,” said Putnam, who ranks second on the tour in greens in regulation at almost 76 percent. “I’ve been staying out of the rough and hitting a lot more fairways than normal.
“That eliminates a lot of the bogeys and the bigger numbers out there. Then, I’ve been able to make those clutch putts coming down the stretch on Saturdays and Sundays.”
It’s the kind of golf that Jason Gore, a fellow Pepperdine alumnus and the Web.com’s career victory leader with seven, experienced in 2005. To a degree. Gore, who played in the final Sunday group of the U.S. Open that year, won two consecutive Web.com events before taking some time off.
When he returned, Gore fired a second-round 59 at the Cox Classic in Omaha and won his third consecutive start to earn the tour’s instant promotion to the PGA Tour.
“You just have to go play golf,” Gore said. “He’s going to think about it all week, and he’ll probably get to a point somewhere Thursday or Friday where he’s like, ‘OK, this is not the way I’m going to win.’ You just go out and continue to play, but obviously, he’s brimming with confidence.”
For Gore, the focus on a third victory was tempered by his even-par 71 the day before his magical 59.
“I was out of it,” Gore said. “It was actually so bad that Friday morning, my coach was out there and I told him to get away from me. I was hitting it so bad on the range, and then I went out and shot 59. It’s a funny game.”
Putnam, who played on the PGA Tour in 2007 and 2011, could label this the post-injury phase of his career. He didn’t play between July 2011 and March 2012 after fracturing a bone in his left wrist during a practice session.
“I got a lot of rest,” Putnam joked. “I’ve had a full year of health under my belt and everything is just coming together in that respect.”
Putnam withdrew from U.S. Open sectional qualifying last week to take his island vacation. With the PGA Tour awarding fully exempt status to the top money winner next season, Putnam’s back-to-back victories realigned his season priorities.
“There’s such a big emphasis on being No. 1 out here with the perks you get at the end of the year,” said Putnam, who tied for the 11th in the 2006 and 2010 Air Capital Classics. “It was a tough decision, but I’m happy to be here in Wichita. I’ve played well here before, which was a reason I wanted to come here and play.”
With Loar playing in the U.S. Open, Putnam will leave Wichita with a comfortable lead on the money list. Tim Wilkinson, who is third in earnings, trails Putnam by $186,678. The winner’s share this week is $108,000.
“You’ve got to win events to catch him,” Wilkinson said. “No. 1 on the money list is a pretty big deal this year. I need to win at some point because there’s a big difference between 1 and 2.”
Gore said during his 2005 season, he developed the mindset that “anyone who was going to win was going to have to go through me.” It’s a feeling that Putnam, who won both tournaments by two strokes, is beginning to understand.
“I started feeling that way midway through the tournament in Maryland,” Putnam said. “I knew I was going to be tough to beat. Even standing around on the first tee the last day, I could tell I had a pretty good grasp on the tournament even though I was just tied for the lead at that point.
“Guys were going to have to play really well to beat me. I don’t know how I got to that point, but I got to it, and I hope I can keep it the rest of the year.”