For many of us, working on our golf game means a trip to the driving range.
You pull out the BIG STICK, rip a few to the other end of the range, and feel like you’re in good form.
David Orr is here to tell you what you probably already know, deep down. Some of that time on the range would be better spent on the practice green.
Orr wears several hats in the golf world. His day job involves training future PGA instructors and other golf personnel as the director of instruction at the PGA Golf Management Program at Campbell University.
For many years, Orr has been researching all the facets of putting — theory, putters, reading greens. In the process, he has become a sought-after putting teacher. Over the past five years, he has worked with more than 30 touring pros from the PGA, LPGA, Nationwide and international tours.
What’s remarkable is the lengths people are willing to go for Orr’s instruction. No matter where they come from, they end up in the small college town of Buies Creek. Orr’s home is within walking distance of the practice facility at Keith Hills Golf Club.
“Just recently, I had two Koreans, a young lady from Maryland and a guy from Florida,” he said.
Orr never set out to be a putting guru. In fact, his career began like many other aspiring golfers – with his sights set on the pro tour.
“I was a mini-tour failure,” he says without hesitation.
While that’s the hard-luck story in a nutshell, his career started off brilliantly, if only for a couple days. His first tournament was the Buffalo Open on the Ben Hogan Tour, where he made the tournament in the Monday qualifier to earn a spot in the field. Orr was 3-under after the front nine in the first round. He finished at even par, and then posted a 76 the next day. After that, it was mostly downhill on the satellite tours.
“I had a beautiful golf swing, had a beautiful stroke, but never made any putts,” he said. “When you’re out there chasing Monday qualifying, you start listening to your friends who start talking about swing techniques, and I ended up changing my swing three times. That was the quick way to lose your natural ability.”
Before long, he discovered the key to his golf game involved something else entirely.
“I spent my whole life working on my golf swing, thinking that was what would get me there, but that was the furthest from the truth. Putting and wedge play is what separates the players on the PGA Tour versus all the other tours.”
With his touring aspirations behind him, he settled in North Carolina, eventually becoming a teaching professional at North Ridge Country Club in Raleigh. In 2000, he moved on to Pine Needles in Southern Pines.
Along the way, Orr was offered the chance to do testing for Edel Golf, makers of high-end putters. He also became a certified instructor for SAM PuttLab, an analysis system that analyzes 28 parameters of an individual’s stroke.
All that lab work has taught Orr that there are a few broad concepts that most golfers need to address when it comes to improvement on the greens.
“No. 1, do they have the right putter?” he said. “No. 2, are they working on the right things with their stroke? And No. 3, are they improving their ability to read greens — developing their eye and their senses when they walk on the surface?”
Orr knows the temptations golfers feel when putts aren’t falling. He’s changed his grip, his stroke, his putter. He’s owned more than 100. That’s the wrong approach.
“How can you be repeatable when you are constantly changing? So that’s the meat and potatoes of what’s wrong with the average golfer. People are always tinkering. You don’t have any chance to be consistent.”
When school is in session, he teaches six to eight classes each semester, so putting instruction for the public goes on the back burner. In the summer, he is available for more of his small instruction programs. The emphasis is on green reading, something most golfers don’t really understand.
“We’d like to take some of the guesswork out of it for them,” he said. “At the very least, we would like to make it more predictable. If you’re putting over a crown, this is what the ball should do. If I told you what to expect, what would that do to your confidence?”
But summer is also his season to work with professionals. He will attend a handful of PGA and Nationwide events this year, where he will make himself available to his clients for putting lessons. Typically, he blocks off time for them on Tuesdays, the day most pros work on their games. Orr has five clients on the Nationwide Tour this season, and he hopes to have a success story similar to one he nurtured last year.
John Riegger knew Orr dating back to their early days playing the mini-tours. When they connected at a spring tournament, Riegger asked if his old friend would work with him prior to the Rex Hospital Open a few weeks later in Raleigh.
Together, they spent three hours on the greens. Riegger finally told Orr, “I could win this week if I putt like this.”
It sounded far-fetched, given that he had finished no higher than 47th in the previous five tournaments. But at the end of the week, there was Riegger, holding a $99,000 check for a five-stroke victory.
Orr could make a more lucrative living in the golf industry if he moved to Orlando and cultivated an exclusive list of touring pros. But that would leave him short-changed. He has a unique niche in the golf world, spreading the word about putting, while bringing along the next generation of instructors who will develop their own passions.
So for now, world-class putting instruction is there for the taking with a quick trip to Buies Creek, about 30 minutes south of Apex.
“I love teaching my kids how to teach golf,” says Orr, who has been at Campbell for seven years. “I choose to be in Buies Creek because I love this program. I love helping people get better — helping people become better teachers and better players.
“If you’re giving people the right information, they themselves can turn it around. I don’t think I’m that great of a teacher. I’m just fortunate to have great students. That’s the secret.”
It’s one thing to teach the finer points of green management, but it’s another to actually drain those long and winding putts. So just how good is Orr at finding the bottom of the cup himself?
“I wouldn’t say that I’m world class, but I make a lot of putts during classes where the kids shake their heads and say, ‘How did you make that?”’
For more information, visit www.davidorrgolf.com.