If you can’t beat ’em, hire the same coach.
That’s the logic Kramer Hickok implemented last fall when he made a move to work with swing coach Mark Blackburn, who has seen success with players like Max Homa, Chez Reavie, Kevin Chappell, Sean O’Hair, Charley Hoffman, J.J. Spaun. Harris English, and recently, Justin Rose.
But this was no quick fix. Despite occasional flashes of brilliance, like an exhausting eight-hole playoff loss to Harris English at the 2021 Travelers Championship, the former University of Texas star had developed some bad habits that weren’t quick to disappear, even under Blackburn’s tutelage.
After missing eight straight cuts, Hickok finally stuck around for the weekend at the Genesis Invitational in February, using a pair of 69s in the opening two rounds to garner a top-30 finish.
He fared even better at the Honda Classic, finishing T-14 after posting an impressive 66 on Saturday. And although he didn’t really get in contention last week at the Players Championship, he made his third straight cut.
And this week at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course, Hickok’s sights are set even higher. After a second consecutive 68, he was among the leaders after the early wave of Friday’s action at the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Florida.
“It’s just a process. I switched coaches back in the fall and I’m just making some swing changes, and so when I get in tournaments, it sort of reverts back to my bad habits,” Hickok said of working with Blackburn. “So I can do it really well on the range, but when I get to the golf course, things sort of go back to the old pattern. So it’s just kind of trusting those feels and just really almost feeling like I need to exaggerate some of the feels to get to where I want to be.
“But it’s just a process. It gets more comfortable for me every week. It’s certainly better than it was last week and it’s better than it was a week before. So it’s just coming along.”
Hickok still made a few mistakes on Friday, including a pair of chips that led to bogeys on Nos. 2 and 16, but he’s 6 under through the opening two rounds, and was just a shot behind leader Adam Schenk after the early players left the course. And there are some familiar names around Hickok on the leaderboard as Jordan Spieth and Cody Gribble, his teammates on the University of Texas’ 2012 NCAA Championship team, are also in the hunt.
But for now, Hickok isn’t thinking about college reunions or celebration speeches. He’s simply trying to keep it simple and let his hot putter make a difference.
“I’ve been putting really nice. Really just seeing the lines really well and hitting some good putts. I don’t really feel like I’m playing that well tee to green, but just keeping the ball in front of me and really just scoring pretty well,” he said. “So I like this golf course a lot. It suits my game. You don’t have to have a lot of power, just kind of fetch it around and hit it pretty straight.
“I like the way I’m sitting right now, but need to go work on the swing a little bit and kind of get back to how it was feeling back on Wednesday and Tuesday.”
That means working with the system Blackburn put in place. And what exactly was it that drew Hickok to work with his new coach?
“His guys were playing really well. So Max Homa has been playing great. Chez Reavie seems to win every other year. Trey Mullinax won last year. He’s got Justin Rose, he won this year,” Hickok said. “So I just tried to follow the hot hand and he’s really helped me a lot, so I’m really excited about our path together.”