Meet putting guru David Orr
In and of itself, the structure is unremarkable.
The dimensions of the building are of smallish proportion and the concrete block is in need of pressure washed scrutiny; at the base of the front awning, the numerals of the address plate hang in a casual state of limbo.
But as with most things, the exterior counts for little; for it is inside, just a step over the threshold, where some of the game’s finest players are redefining their approach to putting.
Scrawled in varying degrees of penmanship, and occupying a corner section of David Orr’s Buies Creek, N.C., putting studio, are the signatures of some of the world’s most prominent touring professionals.
More so than a novelty, they diagram the current needle position of a career arc remarkably polished, yet completely unfinished.
Rose. Molinari. Castro. Wi. Cheyenne Woods. A global consortium, if you will — one that stretches from North Carolina to Asia, and all points in between.
The wall is a unique tableau — only full-field entrants in golf’s major championships and those exempt on worldwide professional tours may leave their mark — and is the constellation matrix of Orr’s career in the game of golf. It represents 23 years of diligent research, practical application and sustained personal relationships.
He clearly laments the facility’s untidy appearance, but his students prefer it this way. “They really love it,” he explains. “I’ve been told not to change a thing.”
And whether by Gulfstream V or Ford Taurus, his students arrive to stand their post in Orr’s lifelong battle against, in his words, “being average.”
If the modern game is synonymous with cozy lifestyles, posh settings and uncommon perks, Orr’s sanctuary represents its raw antithesis. Amidst a stockade of old putter models and diagnostic tools, commitment is reaffirmed. Important decisions are made. The finite, despite his background in technical analysis, is communicated in plain language.
There are periodic notions to alter its condition, sure; but he simply does not enjoy the time required by such a task.
Class, it seems, is always in session.
It’s 2 p.m., and a small group ambles into the studio, each dressed in the familiar patterns of a Tour player. Ranging in age from 18 to 21, they are present to discuss their individual progress against the bar of the PGA’s playing ability test.
If brevity is indeed the soul of wit, then hard data is David Orr’s deoxyribonucleic imprint.
“Is 18 inches past the hole a speed?” he asks. “No. It’s a distance. And what would make it an actual speed?”
His students, neither lost nor disengaged, ponder the question. And while their individual opinions vary, they reach the desired common ground with assistance from Orr’s guiding hand.
“It’s feet per second,” he explains, “so what’s in the denominator? Time. That’s break. That’s touch. Curve is the roll time.”
His point is ultimately quite simple — one’s level of awareness, with specific regard to personal space, must be developed in order to construct a functional cache of putting skills.
“Here’s what the golfer doesn’t realize. Let’s say we had a 10-foot putt, zero point zero slope. No break, no nothing,” he explains. “One degree open is right edge. One degree closed is left edge. Now let’s add a 2 percent slope, putting at an angle — what just happened to the capture width of the hole? The cone just shrinks.”
For lack of a more sophisticated phrase, it’s mad science.
“No. It’s measurement,” he says. “There’s a big difference in being technical and being accurate. I disagree that great putters are born. I think great putters learn their tendencies and use them; they don’t fight them.”
The hour has slipped into rear view, and Orr is now standing atop a table in a room behind the Keith Hills golf shop. At issue is the short game concept of controlling the radius — in other words, what is lengthening and shortening during a player’s chipping motion.
“The reason why the average golfer has the chip yips is because they’ve set up to hit a low shot, and in their mind they are trying to hit a high, soft shot,” he reasons.
This session, presented to a graduate level contingency of Campbell University’s Professional Golf Management (PGM) Program, is canted in the direction of real world application — paper theory, he suggests, simply does not register with everyone.
“Put a ball about a foot from the edge of a mat,” he explains, “and try to get it on the ground as quickly as possible. What is that teaching them (students) to do? The ball goes in the air because of the loft, not because of the angle of attack.”
His message, rooted in one’s ability to communicate, is equal parts Daniel Kaffee from ‘A Few Good Men’ and professor John Keating from ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ — unafraid of the truth, its potential impact on a student’s psyche, and a coach’s willingness to walk a different path to generate success.
Over the years, Orr has employed this concept to successfully transit from a full-swing coach to a specialized entity — one who helps players motivate the golf ball to disappear with increased regularity, regardless of ability, green complex or high-stakes environment.
To that end, Orr respects the sweat equity of his students. In a game full of five footers, he prefers to place more value on the person standing over the putt — or the future instructor, for that matter — than the putt itself.
“People skills,” he exclaims. By his estimation, they make or break any professional, regardless of occupation. And as his students well know, they are non-negotiable.
“What’s work?” he asks. “It’s what you actually accomplish. What’s effort? That’s putting energy toward something, right? So, work is what you actually accomplish. Do you want to be average?”
Perhaps it is John Wooden who best captures the breadth of David Orr’s substance. The iconic UCLA basketball coach, whose dynastic teams won seven consecutive NCAA Division I titles, operated on a simple premise: Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.
“Here’s the thing about it,” he explains. “The brain works off movement, plans and strategies. You react to the plan.” To further this notion, he leans forward, saying, “We don’t give tips around here. We figure out what you’re doing. This is what you need to work on; go work on it.”
For many involved in the high profile web of a Tour player’s corporation, life can become difficult. Even for the world’s most sought after instructors, the balancing act can be difficult to manage. What begins as a working relationship can quickly flash into something complex and unyielding, and ultimately, distant.
Orr, however, remains grounded in the culture he has helped define at Campbell University. For students at “The Creek,” it is solely about the work. The environment is pure — wholly devoid of ego, personalized social media presence, entitlement or the high art of resting upon one’s laurels.
Ever the perfectionist, one would be hard pressed to imagine Orr anything less than excited about passing on what he has learned from countless others over his career.
“At Wells Fargo last year, I was walking back from the short game area with TJ Yeaton — who went through the program here — and we saw this kid down in a bunker,” he says, smiling, clearly fond of the memory. “It was another one of our guys, Jorge Parada (currently the instructor for Jonas Blixt).
“That was pretty neat. Moments like that are the most rewarding. They’re the fruits of your labor.”
Any coach worth his salt will tell you that creating a running sense of leverage often means success for his players. Suffice to say, this concept has allowed Orr to forge ahead in his scaled battle of work versus a job, of success versus being average.
For many in professional golf, life is scored in the harsh ledgers of longevity and winning percentage. Orr, however, views the matter differently, and does so through the looking glass of time well spent.
“I’m very fortunate,” he explains. “I don’t want to be rich, and I don’t want to be famous. I just want to be comfortable with what I do, and grateful for the relationships I have.”
At present, he appears content; almost relaxed. But that posture does not have much of a shelf life. There is a private lesson in five minutes, and more time to be spent refining the studio.
For David Orr, the writing is clearly on the wall.