Jon Curran was in a rut. It was Feb. 19, 2008, and he had just completed his final round at the John Hayt Collegiate Invitational, where he tied for 62nd–the worst finish of his collegiate career.
To say it was uncommon territory for the junior All-American would be an understatement. Curran, a human and organizational development major from Hopkinton, Mass., was coming off a 2007 season where he finished eighth at the NCAA Championships, tied for second at the NCAA West Regional, and tied for ninth at the SEC Championships.
In desperate need of a spark, Curran decided to change putters at the end of February. The results have been everything he hoped.
“From the equipment aspect I really feel comfortable with what I’ve got in the bag right now,” Curran says. “My putter has definitely helped out the past few weeks.”
Helped out it did. In Vanderbilt’s three tournaments in March, he posted two runner-up finishes and a win. During that time he shot par or better in eight of his nine rounds, while posting a stroke average of 70.4.
“[Curran] was struggling most of the year with his putting not being up to the level that it was at the end of last year,” says Head Men’s Golf Coach Tom Shaw. “Switching the putter really gave him a different feeling and a lot more confidence.”
Armed with a new dose of self-assurance, Curran began his own version of “March Madness” at the Seminole Intercollegiate in Tallahassee, Fla., March 2-4, where he earned medalist honors for the first time in his career. He won the tournament with a 10-under 206, becoming the first Commodore to win a tournament since Luke List won the Mason Rudolph Intercollegiate in 2005.
“He started rolling better in Tallahassee, and that has been the main kick-start for him because when he is making putts, he is going to get on a roll,” Shaw says.
Curran concluded the month with a pair of runner-up finishes at the Kauai Collegiate Cup in Kauai, Hawaii, and the Furman Intercollegiate in Greenville, S.C.
“Winning breeds winning,” Curran says. “I hadn’t won in a long time, and I felt like I was getting in a rut. Now, all of a sudden, I have a lot of confidence, and every time I go out, I feel like I can win instead of just having a top finish.”
Curran’s play has turned heads not only at Vanderbilt, but also across the SEC. Following his runner-up finish at the Furman Intercollegiate, the league office selected him as SEC Men’s Golfer of the Week on March 31. The honor was the first of his career.
“It’s a pretty cool honor,” Curran says. “The SEC is a really strong conference with a lot of strong players. It feels great to win such an award.”
So what kind of putter made the difference? Sorry–but only Curran, his coach and fellow players know the answer to that.
But Curran has not been the only one who has reaped the benefits of his play. The team has profited as well. Since the start of March, the Commodores have reeled off three straight top-five finishes, including a victory at the Kauai Collegiate Cup. Prior to March, the team had only two top-five finishes in its previous six tournaments.
“Our backs are kind of against the wall in terms of regionals and our ranking, so in order for us to get where we want to be in regionals, we have to step it up,” Curran says. “Thankfully, we’ve been doing it. Sometimes it takes something like that to get you in gear, and we are really stepping up.”
Although every team’s score is determined by totaling four of its five lowest rounds, Shaw believes that Curran’s play can account for more than just one of the team’s four scores.
“We saw that in Tallahassee,” Shaw says. “The guys saw that he was lighting it up, and they needed to honor his good play by stepping up themselves. They don’t want to be dragging the team down. When Jon starts playing well, it lifts everybody up. He knows how to rise to the occasion when we need him most.”
Ryan Schulz is editor of Commodore Nation, the monthly magazine of Vanderbilt Athletics.
© 2014 Vanderbilt University
Conversation guidelines: Vanderbilt Magazine welcomes your thoughts, stories and information related to this article. Please stay on topic and be respectful of others. Keep the conversation appropriate for interested readers across the map.