Michael Combs is aware, even apologetic, about the hitch in his giddyup - but he isn’t about to change his routine.
One of the most methodical golfers in the area, the professional from the Tri-Cities has also become one of the most successful. Part of the reason is his deliberate pre-shot routine.
“It’s a matter of focusing and concentrating on finishing my pre-shot routine before I play a shot,” Comb said. “I don’t plan for it to turn out as long as it sometimes does. But I’m not going to hit that shot before I finish my routine without a hitch. If I run into a hitch, I start the routine again.”
While Combs’ routine may aggravate some competitors, it has certainly worked.
After winning last week’s Rosauers Open at Indian Canyon he is at The Fairways to defend his title in the 37th annual Washington Trust Bank Lilac Invitational beginning today.
“I don’t think (being defending champion) offers any advantage,” Combs said after a practice round Wednesday. “It obviously feels good when you come back to remember, but the good things go away with the first bogey. This is a game you have to play in the present, you can’t spend too much time thinking about the past, good or bad.”
There weren’t many bogeys last year when Combs shot 64-65-68-74 to finish at 17-under 271.
Combs plowed through the Rosauers with rounds of 66-67-68, even staying steady in the final round despite a warning for slow play.
“All good players have a routine, I think,” Combs said. “I maybe focus on it longer. I wish I had kept position, I wish I hadn’t flunked the clock. I apologize for that. I don’t hear anybody grumble when I finish second and take that long. A few other players take that long, like Nicklaus.”
Combs, 29, knows of what he speaks. As the 1990 U.S. Public Links champion, he played in the 1991 Masters, playing the first round with Jack Nicklaus.
When Rick Acton, Combs’ instructor, wasn’t getting the desired results with his pupil, he sent him to a psychologist, Dr. David Cook in Lawrence, Kan. Now the results are in, and they’re working.
“I would say it has made me more consistent,” Combs said. “It’s all part of the learning process. (We all wish we knew) why we get to playing good and sometimes we don’t… . I just keep trying to do the same thing.”
In the meantime, a lot of things have changed for Combs, he got married, got a new job, got a dog.
The dog joined him for his practice round, his wife is coming for the tournament. As for the job, he left as an assistant pro at Horn Rapids in Richland for The Longest Drive in Kennewick. The Longest Drive allows Combs more flexibility for competition and more time for teaching, which he enjoys.
The tournament record belongs to six-time champion Chris Mitchell. The Sundance pro shot a 265 when all four rounds were played at Downriver. Over the years, the tournament has been played at Downriver, The Fairways and both. Par at Downriver is 71, so Mitchell was 19 under. Combs finished at 271, 17 under, last year when all four rounds were at The Fairways. Combs reached 19 under at one point during his final round.
Tournament director John Durgan, as could be expected of anyone hosting a golf tournament, said the course was in “fabulous” shape, not just the lightning quick greens but also The Fairways’ fairways. Durgan, however, had a unique way of describing the course: “It’s fun to walk down the fairways, then go hit my second shot out of the rough,” he said. “Sometimes I take my shoes off, but I have to put them back on to hit out of the rough.”
Durgan said The Fairways’ legendary fast greens won’t be quite as quick because he hopes to see low scores. The greens have been cut to 12.5 on the Stemp meter in past years but will be about 10 this year. , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.