HILTON HEAD ISLAND — Bo Van Pelt has needed just 32 putts in his first 23 holes this week in the 46th RBC Heritage presented by Boeing on Harbour Town Golf Link’s small greens.
That’s a big reason he’s tied for third at 3-under par and just two shots behind leader K.J. Choi, and a big reason for his solid putting is Mitchell Crum, the director of instruction and a putting/short game specialist with United States Golf Schools based at International Club of Myrtle Beach.
They are both from Richmond, Ind. Crum, 51, has known Van Pelt, 39, since the PGA Tour member was a child, and Crum began helping him with his short game when Van Pelt was in college at Oklahoma State from 1994-98.
They touched base from time to time for several years and reconnected about three years ago, when Van Pelt asked Crum to look at his putting.
After working with Crum, Van Pelt improved from 144th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained putting in 2011 to 11th in 2012, and improved from 147th in total putting to ninth.
In that 2012 season, Van Pelt recorded the most top-10s in his career with 10 and made 20 of 24 cuts to earn more than $3 million.
“Every time I’ve worked with him or when I go see him it’s like an instant improvement, so I get great feedback,” Van Pelt said. “It’s not like I struggle trying to think that what he tells me works. Whenever I see him it seems like right off the bat it clicks.
“He knows my tendencies, so it’s not like we’re trying to rebuild something, it’s kind of like, ‘Hey let’s get back to where you were when you were really stroking it well.’ He keeps it simple but it’s really good stuff.”
Crum assists Van Pelt with some short game and wedge work, though mostly putting. Van Pelt hasn’t been to the Grand Strand for lessons yet. Crum either meets him on the road or visits him in his home of Tulsa, Okla.
“Sometimes I’ll just shoot some video on my phone, and he’s known me long enough that it’s usually one or two little things that he can pick up off the video,” Van Pelt said. “It’s just good to have somebody like that to talk to that has helped you along the way.”
Van Pelt, who birdied two of the five holes he played Friday before play was suspended, tinkered with his putting stroke a lot last year and has settled on having a long shaft that runs up the left arm, a la Matt Kuchar. His putting statistics are poor this season, but he said it has a lot to do with not hitting approach shots very close to the hole.
“It’s been a good ride so far,” Crum said. “I’m looking for good things to happen this summer. Everything is starting to click. The thing we keep talking about is he just has to stay the course and practice what he knows.”
On solid ground
Could a change in accommodations be contributing to a change in performance at Harbour Town for Australian Robert Allenby?
Allenby is playing in his 11th Heritage dating back to his first appearance in 1995 and has had little success. He has withdrawn twice prior to the final round and made two cuts otherwise, with a tie for 14th his best finish.
Most of those performances came when Allenby was staying on his boat, Aussie Rules, which featured a kangaroo with a fishing pole. Having sold his boat, Allenby is staying in a Marriott suite this week, and he’s playing as well as he’s ever played at Harbour Town. Through five holes in his second round, Allenby is just one shot behind leader K.J. Choi at 4-under par, and birdied his first two holes Friday.
“I’ll just pick it back up tomorrow and hopefully I can just keep going the way I’m going,” said Allenby, whose four PGA Tour victories came in 2000 and 2001. “… I just hope that I can keep the confidence that I have at the moment going for the next couple of days.
“It’s not going to be an easy test. It’s going to be pretty tough, and growing up in Australia playing with a lot of wind, hopefully that will be in good stead for me.”
Allenby hasn’t been avoiding the marina. He’s still taking the opportunity to visit friends on their boats.
“I’ve gotten to know a lot of great people from the marina and we’ve been tied up alongside each other for a number of years now,” said Allenby, who had family stay on the boat some years and buddies stay on it others. “The last couple of years I’ve been sort of hanging out a little bit on their boats. It’s been nice. It’s such a great place. It’s just a pleasure to come to.”
Fellow Australian Greg Norman often brought his large boat in the 17 years he played in the Heritage between 1981 and 2004.
On shaky ground
Boiling Springs resident William McGirt’s rocky relationship with Harbour Town was tested Friday.
After posting a 5-under 66 in the opening round to hold a share of the lead, McGirt struggled through Friday morning’s wind and spitting rain to shoot a 5-over 76 that has him tied for 24th with much of the field yet to complete their second rounds.
McGirt isn’t blaming the course for his struggles, however. The weather was the main culprit.
“I hit a few bad shots today, but good Lord,” McGirt said. “I said [Thursday] I thought I had figured out the wind a lot. Every good shot I hit today it seemed to get knocked down, or it would be blowing 20 mph right to left and it wouldn’t touch it or even take it the other way.
“That’s about as hard a round as I’ve played since I’ve been on tour, maybe other than Pebble Beach this year, where you’re hitting 7-iron from 100 yards. It was just flat tough.”
The 2001 Wofford graduate began the second round on the 10th hole, which he promptly birdied, but he bogeyed holes 13, 14, 16, 17 and 18 along windy Calibogue Sound, then steadied a bit with a birdie and two bogeys on his final nine. McGirt’s even-par 142 could move up considerably by the time the second round is complete, depending on the conditions Saturday.
He had the first tee time in the morning, and was happy to have it knowing the heavy rain was coming by early afternoon. “I was counting my blessings,” said McGirt, whose agent is Paul Graham, tournament director for the Hootie & the Blowfish Monday After the Masters Celebrity Pro-Am held annually at Barefoot Resort’s Dye Club.
Rain has affected a lot more than play at the Heritage. Spectators without specific parking privileges will not be allowed to park in the general spectator lots Saturday and Sunday for the sake of safety.
Instead, they must park at Hilton Head High School at 70 Wilborn Road, and shuttle buses will stop at Will Call on their way to the course if necessary. Rain has rendered many of the traditional parking areas inside Sea Pines Resort unusable.
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.