State of the Hogs: Ridings looking for hot finish on PGA Tour

By: Clay Henry
Published: Thursday, July 27, 2017
Tag Ridings tees off on the second hole during the final round of the PGA Zurich Classic golf tournament's new two-man team format at TPC Louisiana in Avondale, La., Sunday, April 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Scott Threlkeld)
Tag Ridings tees off on the second hole during the final round of the PGA Zurich Classic golf tournament's new two-man team format at TPC Louisiana in Avondale, La., Sunday, April 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Scott Threlkeld)

— Tag Ridings was probably surprised to get the call, my first his way in about 14 seasons on the PGA Tour.

The last came in 2003 after a second in Las Vegas, his best PGA Tour finish in 20 seasons as a professional. It's been so long I wasn't sure that the cell number was correct. The text was answered immediately and the interview was almost immediate. There was even a call to Tag's dad, a retired club pro from Tulsa. I consider both to be good friends.

I got to know Paul Ridings as the golf writer of the Tulsa World in the 1980s. He coached me on the golf scene in Oklahoma, both during his time at LaFortune Park Golf Course and later as the head pro at South Lakes in Jenks.

I got to know Tag during his junior golf days in the Tulsa area, later in an All-American career at Arkansas, which ended in 1997. Tag was All-American both ways, in the class room and on the course.

There were several interviews during his Arkansas days for Hawgs Illustrated. They were always a highlight - engaging and introspective. I'll never forget the prediction for one column that came from UA golf coach Bill Woodley, after Tag's first collegiate victory.

“Tag has it upstairs to win,” Woodley said. “He may not be as consistent or as spectacular as some on our team, but when he gets in position, he doesn't spit the bit. I don't think he's scared to win. I don't think he will be on the PGA Tour, either.”

I reminded Tag of that prediction Wednesday night as he put to bed preparations for the RBC Canadian Open in Toronto. He laughed, one of several times that my thoughts were thought to be full of humor.

“What I did last week is the definition of spitting the bit,” Ridings said. “I know a lot of people around me question my strategy: Why didn't I lay up?”

Ridings did have a good opportunity for his first PGA Tour victory last week at the Barbasol Open, the PGA Tour event opposite the British Open. Ridings had a 1-shot lead with three holes to play at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club just outside of Auburn, Ala.

After playing the first 69 holes at 21-under, Ridings hit his second shot on the par five 16th in the water en route to a double bogey seven. He had two chances at birdie to finish, but grazed the hole both times. He finished two back of the winner.

The 16th is a dogleg right par five, wrapped around water. It's a classic risk reward hole. And, it's not really an easy layup. After clearing the fairway bunker with a drive of well over 300 yards, Ridings had only a No. 4 iron left to the front area of the green.

“The pin was back right, in a really tough spot,” he said of the location in a corner that was protected by water and with no real landing area front or back and up a tier on the green.

“You don't go for that pin. So in a way, I wasn't going for it. What I had was a shot that should have been at worst in the front left bunker or on the front area of the green.

“I'm thinking I'm going to leave myself an easy chip – or maybe a putt – with the perfect angle to the hole. I was thinking I'd have a great chance at another birdie.”

There were no nerves.

“My decision making was perfect,” he said. “There was nothing wrong going on. It wasn't a difficult shot. I was thinking clearly. Really, playing short of all of that was not really the right shot. There was no chance at the pin from a layup.”

Ridings found out how tough after a “thin heal” that slid into the water. The drop area was essentially the same spot as the layup.

“You didn't have anything but the front part of the green to play, then a long putt,” he said. “My shot after the drop rolled back off the slope to the back tier. You really didn't have an angle at the pin.”

Three putts later Ridings was two back of the lead. He missed a 20-footer at No. 17 that ended just a few inches past the cup. The 9-footer at No. 18 was a right edge putt that stayed there and stopped just inches past again.

“I gave them good runs at the last two holes,” he said. “So I feel good about the way I handled (the double bogey).

"It was fun to be in the hunt. I've hit on something with some new shafts. My short game is solid. Golf has ebs and flows, but it's all working pretty good right now. I'm excited about the finish to the season. I played really solid last week and I'm excited about this week.”

Obviously, there is reason to be excited. Ridings opened with a 5-under 67 in the first round of the RBC Canadian Open in Toronto.

Paul Ridings doesn't travel anymore. His health is poor and he can't walk but a few steps. But he can follow Tag on the Internet. He followed the finish on the shot tracker on the PGA Tour website. The tournament wasn't live on the Golf Channel, but it was available Sunday night.

“I knew what happened at 16,” Paul said. “So I didn't really want to watch it when it came on that night. But I did go back the next day when it came on again.

“I thought it looked like a good swing. I'm not sure what happened on that one. But what I was proud about, the way he handled the moment. He didn't get emotional. He played the last two great, like a true professional.”

No one is surprised. Tag Ridings, 42, has always been class personified. I saw it in junior golf. He took it in stride when he redshirted as a true freshman in 1993. The Hogs were loaded with four veterans. The lone spot up for grabs was won by highly regarded Bud Still. That's no shame. Still eventually won the SEC individual championship.

I never doubted Ridings would make in on the PGA Tour. While he's not won a tournament and he's had to fight through back and neck injuries, there has been solid earnings. The top year was 2005 with $891,812 and the career total is $4.6 million.

Last week's check of $182,000 pushed his 2017 earnings to $439,036 and 154th on the FedEx point list. With three weeks left before the FedEx cup, Ridings needs another finish like that.

“I wouldn't call this a successful year,” he said. “I need to keep my card. I need somewhere to play next year. Getting in the top 150 gives me some tournaments, but what you really want is to be in that top 120 and you play every week.

“The only way you can make a profit out here is to play on the big tour. The rest is tough.”

Tough is the right word for Ridings. He's fought through issues with the lower back, shoulder and neck, but is healthy now. He knows his body isn't perfect for golf and that's just not the back stuff. At 6-1 and 200 pounds, he's not the typical size for golf. And, he's got short arms for his height.

“Everyone out here has much longer arms than me,” he said. “Those guys with the long arms have an easier time. And, what I see typically is that the shorter guys have it easier because they are closer to the ground.”

Ridings has battled that issue for 25 years.

“I finally went with longer than standard shafts,” he said. “But what you find out when you do that, those shafts might not fit you. Because not a lot of people are doing that, it's tough to get fitted right.”

It became such an issue that Ridings started building clubs with custom shafts in his work shop at his home in Keller, Texas, near the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.

“I probably built 30 sets,” he said. “I'm not saying they were pretty. But I started to figure it out.

“My issue is that I have a very quick transition to the ball. Most of these guys who have these beautiful swings with the long arms, they don't go at it as hard as me. So the shafts that we see on Tour, they aren't for me.

“What most guys are playing are soft close to the handle or grip, stiff at the head. I wanted stiffer clubs at the handle and a stiff tip.”

Things began to click earlier this year with his sponsor, Srixon. They helped fit him through Cleveland, a subsidiary.

“I think the key was that I'd been doing all of this work in my shop so I knew what to tell them I wanted,” he said. “They were able to get me exactly what I needed earlier this year. I started hitting it better and now I'm putting better. It's all coming together right now.”

Like for most on Tour, putting comes and goes for Ridings. His father laughs about his trials with all sorts of putters.

“If you go in his golf workshop at home, you are going to see a lot of putters,” Paul said. “I think he's traveled with a lot of putters. His reputation is that he might change during a tournament. But he's kept this one in his bag for quite awhile.”

Home has been Keller for the last decade. He transitioned to DFW after thinking Fayetteville would be his home base early in his PGA Tour. He liked the practice facility at The Blessings Golf Club, but travel to and from Fayetteville was problematic for Tour life.

“When I got married and we knew we were going to have children, it just didn't work in Fayetteville anymore,” he said. “I'd go on the road and it just wasn't practical to come home in between tournaments, even when you missed a cut. You'd just have to stay on the road for five or six straight weeks.

“I just knew that wasn't going to work. I wanted to be a part of everything my kids do. I didn't want to miss it all. So we decided to get as close to the DFW airport as we could. We are very close. I can get home from about anywhere and even for a day in between tournaments.”

Paul said, “He's a hands-on dad. He gets to everything. I'm talking about from soccer games to dance recitals. He is going to be there.”

There is a 10-year-old son, and daughters ages 8 and 4.

“The joy comes when I get home,” Tag said. “I liked what they built at The Blessings. The facility Peter Kostis designed is perfect. I just was going to miss too many family things because of travel.”

It means there will be fewer Razorback games, plus he enjoyed being around the talented golfers on the UA team. He follows everything via Twitter. He was pumped about Mason Overstreet's runner-up finish at the NCAA tournament in May.

“I've seen pictures of Mason,” said Ridings, who has a Razorback logo on his Tour bag. “I knew he was from Kingfisher, Oklahoma, and I know there's not much there. He looks like a football player.”

Overstreet is 6-1, 220. Indeed, he's built for football. Ridings didn't ask, but I bet he wonders about the arms. Are they long, or short like his? Tag's dad understands the issues arm length can cause.

“I've battled that all along,” Paul said. “I don't think Tag started going with longer shafts until he'd been on Tour for a bit.

“But I was 6-4 when I was young. I had to go with one inch over standard all along. Tag finally did that, too. I have watched Tag spend a lot of time trying to get the right length, the right lie and the right flex in his shafts.

“He goes after it pretty hard. He's got one of those old-styled swings, not a modern swing. He gets through the ball pretty hard and he's got his right foot flat. You don't see that much anymore. Kenny Perry does that, too, but not many others.

“That kind of swing does put stress on your back and your hips. He's probably been to the chiropractor more times than you can imagine. Those guys follow the Tour so he's got that when he needs it.”

Right now, he's got it all going right.

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