Little changes buoy Michael Arnaud in return to Merrill Lynch Open

Packing up after missing the cut at the Victoria Open earlier this month, Michael Arnaud reached a decision common to any golfer.

Firing an opening-round score of 7-over-par left the Covington resident with far too much ground to cover, and the result left Arnaud certain he needed to ditch tinkering he’d done with his equipment after a successful swing on the winter portion of the Adams Tour.

A modest change in switching to a newer version of his preferred ball and picking up a new driver left the defending champion of the Mary Bird Perkins Merrill Lynch Open, which begins Wednesday at Santa Maria Golf Club, reaching a simple solution.

“I tried to convince myself I could play with it, but it just got to the point where I said, ‘No more,’ ” Arnaud said Monday. “It was just, ‘The heck the with it; let’s go back with what works.’ ”

The switch back didn’t prove dramatic initially.

At the Texas Honing Open in Pearland, the 31-year-old, who played at Stephen F. Austin, fired modest back-to-back par-72 rounds on the 6,900-yard Golfcrest Country Club course. Yet Arnaud made a steady push over the weekend with a third-round 68 and a final-round 70 to finish in a tie for ninth at 6-under.

“I went home and scraped it, got the old new stuff back in the bag,” he said of the switch. “I didn’t play great the first two rounds but built some confidence with the weekend.”

Any deterioration in Arnaud’s confidence was limited, considering he hadn’t carried out a massive structural change to his game, such as overhauling his swing. Instead, it was more about the materials than the design.

Put simply, the right materials applied in the right setup can breed the biggest improvement.

“There’s a lot of things you can’t control, but it’s nice to go back out there know what to expect from your game, said Arnaud, who is 32nd on the tour’s money list. “There’s not that little gray area where one day you might be good, then the next day not so good. It’s nice to have that consistency.”

Arriving at the 6,969-yard Santa Maria course provides another boon. Arnaud breezed to a three-shot victory at 19-under last year and, before relocating from Baton Rouge, it was Arnaud’s home course. Practice rounds are less about discovery and amassing data for analysis for Arnaud, who pretty much carries around a yardage book between his ears.

“It’s a course I know, one I’m comfortable with,” he said. “I know what shot to hit on every hole. It’s nice to know what sight lines to play.”

And, perhaps, he has the proper tools at his disposal.

“I’ve had a couple slip-ups,” he said. “But that happens. You’re not going to play great all the time. So you just work through it.”