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Lou Cooper, Robin Freeman
Robin Freeman is trusting his caddie, PGA Professional Lou Cooper, for help judging distances and reading greens. (Getty Images)

With new putter grip, Freeman grabs onto course record in opening round

Thanks to a decision to go with an oversized putter grip, Robin Freeman putted his way to a course-record 66 on Thursday. Freeman credited the grip with keeping his hands out of his stroke, and his caddie for his help in reading the greens at Colorado Golf Club.

By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer

PARKER, Colo. – Robin Freeman decided before the 71st Senior PGA Championship at Colorado Golf Club that it was time to get a grip.

Literally.

So, that’s exactly what the 51-year-old PGA Tour journeyman did. Freeman got a new, oversized grip for his putter, “that takes my hands out of the stroke,” he said.

The decision bore results immediately. Freeman, whose best finish this season was a tie for 12th at the Mississippi Classic a few weeks back, needed only 26 putts on Thursday in a spectacular round of 6-under 66, good for a share of the early first-round lead and a new course record with Bernhard Langer.

“Holy cow, first of all,” said Freeman, who is yet to win in 276 PGA Tour starts. “Probably the best putting round I had in… maybe ever.  It was great.  It was very good on the greens.  I have a caddie who is a great friend of mine, who is a PGA Professional named Lou Cooper, who is caddying for me this week. And he reads greens very well.  And we did a lot of mapping of the greens in practice rounds this week.  And he read them very well.  I hit them the correct speeds and I made a few.  So that was kind of fun.”

Freeman’s round began on the 10th hole, a tough par 4 that played 451 yards Thursday. After a solid drive, Freeman hit his 9-iron approach to 25 feet and poured in the birdie putt.

After a bogey at No. 13, Freeman rattled off three consecutive birdies, including another 25-foot putt on No. 16. Freeman also picked up birdies on Nos. 2, 6 and 9 on the front – his back nine – holing a 15-foot putt and two from 30 feet.

“That's more putts than I've made over six feet in my life in one round, I can guarantee you,” said Freeman, making just his third Champions Tour start this season. “Definitely more putts.”

There’s also that matter of playing at altitude this week in the Denver area. Freeman said his experience playing at altitude is pretty much limited to the old PGA Tour event down the road from here at Castle Pines and the event in Reno, Nev.

The key at altitude, Freeman said, is to trust the calculations. For instance, the par-3 sixth hole played a whopping 261 yards on Thursday. Freeman, believe it or not, hit a 5-iron from the tee that actually went past the hole.

“I’ve played at altitude before, so I know the calculations pretty well,” he said. “But still, when you're standing back there on that tee and you’ve got 261 to the hole but you're only trying to land it, what, 230, 225?  Whatever it is. We had 225 front, I think. And you take the calculations to the front knowing that it's going to release. So it's still pretty hard to stand back there and say, ‘yeah, I'm going to hit this 261, I'm going to hit a soft 5-iron.’  That just doesn't compute.  But you still have to commit to the swing and just make it.  And it worked out. But it is hard.”

Surprisingly, the wind wasn’t much of a factor early in the opening round. Players with early tee times enjoyed conditions about as benign as they’ll get around these parts and Freeman was quite happy to capitalize on his draw.

He also said, aside from the wind, the biggest difference between Thursday’s round and the practice rounds was the speed of the greens. 

“The greens were definitely different,” said Freeman. “I don't know, I haven't spoken to a PGA member yet as far as if they raised the height on the mowers or if they watered them extra or if they didn't mow at all or didn't roll, I'm not sure.  But they were definitely slower this morning.  They speeded up as the moisture left the greens later in the afternoon, but they were definitely slower this morning. You didn't have to putt so defensive on those putts, you could go ahead and give them a hit.”

Being able to take an aggressive approach to putting served Freeman well and justified his decision to put the new grip in play.

Freeman began practicing with the new putter grip last week at La Quinta Resort and Spa in California with Cooper, while they were visiting Freeman’s brother, Craig, the PGA Head Professional at La Quinta.

“I rolled it really well and I said, ‘Lou, I'm going to put it in play,’ and he said, ‘OK,’” Freeman recalled. “And it worked out really well today. It's big. It's just a fat grip, a thick grip. Instead of getting there and being handsy, there's a grip there. I get it a lot more in the palms and I get to use my arms and shoulders a lot more as opposed to letting my hands interfere. And it seemed to work. Knock wood. Hopefully it will last for three more days.”

If it does, he might finally pick off that first win.
 

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