Aaron Watkins is getting a little tired of the number “2.”
A two-time PGA Tour cardholder, in 2009 and 2013 via Q-School, Watkins likely wouldn’t even be playing in the Web.com Tour’s Digital Ally Open this weekend in Overland Park, Kan., were it not for two pesky putts during the last round of 2014’s final regular season tournament.
Even more frustrating, he wasn’t the player to stroke either of them.
“One guy birdied the 17th and another guy made a 30-footer on the 18th hole that if he missed, it would have given me enough (earned money) to get my card,” Watkins said.
“I could easily find 2 strokes, but you can’t think like that. You might miss a 5-footer one hole but you make a 40-footer the next. It all equals out in the end, so it kind of sucks, but there’s nothing you can do about it.”
The top 25 money winners automatically receive their PGA Tour cards, and Watkins, 33, finished 28th last year.
Watkins, a Kansas State grad and currently 57th on this year’s money list, was in one of the first two groups Thursday at Nicklaus Golf Club at Lionsgate that teed off in a shotgun-style format that sent players off of holes No. 1 and No. 10 simultaneously.
He opened with a 2-under 69, but on a day when 24 morning-flight players posted rounds of 66 or better, Watkins knew the number “2” had contributed to another missed opportunity.
“As much as I don’t like getting up at 4:30 in the morning, I prefer to go off at 7 a.m. because you get greens that no one has been on yet” Watkins said. “(The round) was not great, but the way I’ve been playing the last few weeks, it was a good start.”
The course was soft after a wet day Wednesday, making for pristine putting conditions on flawless surfaces, which Watkins was among the first to navigate.
But on Thursday, the club that he relies on most let him down to a meaningful extent. His putting disappointed him so much that he made an adjustment unlike any he’s even contemplated in years, switching from a cross-handed grip to a regular grip of the putter — in the middle of his round no less.
“I haven’t switched my putting grip in 2 1/2 years or even tried a different putting grip, but it’s out of that frustration I guess, and I just thought I’d try it and see what happens, and saw a couple go in,” Watkins said.
Watkins mentioned Wednesday that he hoped the weather would dry out and the course, which he described as a “bomber’s paradise” favoring long hitters, would firm up. If the new grip proves a shrewd decision, then faster conditions only improve Watkins’ prospects over the final three rounds that much more.
As the morning wore on, Watkins said he began noticing such a transformation, which was reflected in higher afternoon scoring as playing conditions reverted closer to what they were last season when that pesky number “2” reared its ugly head for the first time.
Watkins finished in second place at a dry and quick Digital Ally Open in 2014, conditioned perfectly to put him in line for a victory.
Despite being disappointed with the runner-up slot, Watkins said coming back to Kansas where he went to school, and particularly to a course where he’s had success, makes the experience that much more enjoyable for him.
“I gave myself an opportunity on the last couple holes, so it was fun,” Watkins explained of his second-place finish last season. “But like I said, my play hasn’t been that good lately, so it’s nice to come where I kind of have some positive vibes.
“I think confidence can’t do anything but help.”
Web.com Tour’s Digital Ally Open
▪ WHEN: Today through Sunday. Gates open at 7 a.m.
▪ WHERE: Nicklaus Golf Course at LionsGate, at 143rd and Dearborn streets. More information available at DigitalAllyOpen.org.
▪ TICKETS: $25 for a weekly pass, or $10 daily. Admission is free for kids 14 and under.