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How Brendan Steele got a little help from his rock star friend

Brendan Steele reacts after sinking a birdie putt on the 18th green during the final round of the Safeway Open. He won the tournament by one stroke. Eric Risberg/AP Photo

It was just over six months ago when Brendan Steele was lining up putt after putt from specifically measured distances on the Bay Hill Club & Lodge practice green in advance of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, part of a newly implemented regimen.

"Dave was looking at my stats," he explained that afternoon. "He said I need to make more from this range."

The range was 8 to 16 feet, and the Dave in question wasn't a putting guru, a short-game coach or even a fellow PGA Tour player.

It was Dave "Phoenix" Farrell, bassist for the popular rock band Linkin Park.

Previously mutual fans of each other -- Steele enjoys the band's music; Farrell is a 4 handicap who watches a lot of PGA Tour golf -- they met through a mutual friend backstage at a Linkin Park concert two years ago.

They quickly developed a friendship assisted by geography. When neither is on tour, they live about 20 minutes from each other in Southern California. Not long after that first meeting, they regularly started playing golf together.

As the friendship grew, Farrell started watching Steele more closely. He pored over statistics and soon began tracking all of his rounds in notebooks, calculating the percentage of putts made from various distance ranges in scribbles along the way, like a golf version of "A Beautiful Mind."

"I just started thinking the difference between him shooting 62 and his usual 67 or whatever is that makeable-range putt," Farrell explained. "I noticed that when we were playing. Then I started looking at PGA Tour statistics, which include make percentages of all the different ranges. One that I found was 8 to 16 feet."

Employing Moneyball-type analytics, he discovered that the PGA Tour leader from this range made right around 30 percent of his attempts. The average was about 20 percent.

Steele? He checked in at just over 10 percent.

"I saw that he was averaging five-six putts per round in this range," Farrell continued. "I don't know that much about golf or statistics, but I could see the variance potential in that range for improvement. It seemed like an area he could go out and practice."

Based on ball-striking numbers remaining consistent, he proposed that Steele only needed to reach that average percentage and he would increase his number of top-10 finishes. Making the same rate as the tour leader would result in more top-fives. And if he really got the putter going, he would start winning.

This wasn't an insignificant line of demarcation. In the season that just ended, Steele captured 11 top-25 results in 25 starts, but just two top-10s. Meanwhile, his 2011 triumph at the Valero Texas Open as a rookie remained his lone career victory.

Complicating this idea -- or perhaps just explaining it better -- was the fact that Steele is a former anchored putter who is no longer allowed to use that method under Rule 14-1b.

When approached with his buddy's idea, Steele didn't shrug it off or pay him lip service. He didn't even just listen. Instead, he started consciously working to improve his putting from this range.

"I know it sounds strange to be taking putting advice from a rock star, but Dave is a really smart guy and he loves both golf and statistics," Steele explained. "When he came to me with the numbers it made a ton of sense, so I started paying attention to the data. I took the data to one of my coaches, Chris Mayson, and he developed some drills that focus on that length of putt."

Fast forward to this past week's season-opening Safeway Open.

One year earlier, Steele entered the final round of this tournament with the lead, only to post a 4-over 76 and finish in a share of 17th place. That bitter taste gradually rinsing from his mouth, he opened with rounds of 67-71-67 this year, placing himself within striking distance once again going into the final day.

Trailing by a few strokes, he holed an essential 13-footer for a par save on the ninth hole. Birdies at 16 and 17 moved him into a share of the lead entering the par-5 18th. After laying up with his second shot, Steele hit a wedge shot to exactly 8 feet -- the starting point of the range Farrell had first proposed to him.

He made it.

And when no player in the final few groups could match his 18-under total, Steele had claimed a second career victory.

How important was his putting from that range of 8 to 16 feet? For the week, he holed nine of 19 -- or 47 percent.

"That range putt was a huge part of my success this week," Steele said. "It was a much higher percentage than I have on an average week. We have found that the 8-16 foot range has both enough frequency and enough probability of a made putt to make a big difference in your score."

As for the rock star, a guy who's written dozens of hit songs and played to sold-out shows around the world, he took satisfaction in helping his friend win again, in any way he could.

"I've never tried to hide it," he laughed of his inner math nerd. "Whenever people meet any of us in the band, they find there's a lot of normal going on."