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FORT WORTH, Texas — While others — cough, cough, Bryson and Phil — continue to tinker with longer drivers, Jason Kokrak learned through a decade of booming tee shots that this wasn’t an area on which he needed to focus his attention.
A top-five ball striker on the PGA Tour last season, the Xavier University product and resident of the Cleveland suburb of Hudson has seen his putter hold him back from lasting success. Sure, he’s had moments, including three second-place finishes in more than a decade on Tour, but consistency has eluded him, with his work on the greens the main cause. Before this season, Kokrak had cracked the top 100 in Strokes Gained: Putting just one time, when he finished 53rd in 2013.
But a suggestion from his caddie, David Robinson, has made all the difference in the career of a player who’s gone from the middle of the pack to near the top of more leaderboards.
Robinson suggested that Kokrak go to a longer putter, one with a 36-inch shaft, and the results have been astounding. He picked up his first PGA Tour win last October at the CJ Cup in Las Vegas and has only continued to gain steam, earning five top-25 finishes in his last eight starts.
Kokrak, who uses a Bettinardi putter, spent some time at the company’s Illinois camp and has seen dramatic results — he’s jumped to seventh on the Tour in Strokes Gained: Putting this season.
“I went to their studio and learned what my tendencies were. I went up in loft a few years ago, four or five years ago, more than I was comfortable with,” Kokrak said. “But then about two years ago, my caddie saw that I was holding the putter kind of in the base of my palm here, and both hands weren’t completely on the putter. He said, ‘Don’t change anything, just go to a 36-inch putter,’ and that’s made all the difference.
“I’m able to stand up a little bit taller, I’m more comfortable and it’s working. And it helps that D-Rob is reading the greens for me.”
This week, Kokrak has found the perfect mix — he’s first in driving distance yet has continued to keep his putter hot. The combo has translated to the scoreboard and on Friday Kokrak posted his second straight 65, giving him the lead at the Charles Schwab Challenge after the early wave of players in the second round.
He was predictably pleased with his performance at the tournament’s halfway point at Colonial Country Club, a place where he had struggled for years before finishing third in 2020.
“You know, the ball-striking was there today. I may be didn’t drive it quite as good as I did yesterday but irons were on top form. A couple miscues, one bogey. I hit the tree and got a bad lie in the bunker. It was plugged so I didn’t really have a play about there, but a nice save there, and I birdied No. 4,” he said. “I’m giving myself a lot of birdie opportunities. If I can eliminate some silly mistakes, the bogeys will vanish.
“But other than that, I’m happy with the way I’m hitting the ball, getting more comfortable on the greens and just giving myself as many opportunities around this golf course as I can.”
Due to his showing, Kokrak is destined to play in one of the later groups on Saturday, especially since a rain delay held up play during Friday’s second round.
Known as one of the more fun-loving players on Tour, would he relish the opportunity to sleep in?
“Yeah,” he said, “that would be nice.”