What mighty ills have not been done by putting? Destructive, damnable, deceitful putting?
--Horace G. Hutchinson,
from his book The New Book on Golf (1912)
There are many SCARY golf shots for the average golfer, including the first tee ball of the day; an approach over water; a pitch over a bunker; the first shot after a shank; a half-wedge from a tight lie; the downhill, short-sided bunker shot; the flop shot and the low punch shot that must stay under a maze of tree limbs.
While all of those shots are SCARY and TRICKY, the truth is that we may only face those daunting situations three to four times in an average round. On the other hand, a golfer can’t ignore the fact that 40% (or a bit more) of all “shots taken” during a round are putts. And if you are a so-so putter or in a putting slump, every putt is challenging and those downhill left-to-right, three-footers are downright terrifying.
Despite the fact that nine-time Major winner Ben Hogan thought putting was way overemphasized and believed, “Hitting a golf ball and putting have nothing in common. They're two different games. You work all your life to perfect a repeating swing that will get you to the greens, and then you have to try to do something that is totally unrelated. There shouldn't be any cups, just flag sticks. And then the man who hit the most fairways and greens and got closest to the pins would be the tournament winner,” the rules still state that a short knee knocker and a 275-yard, down-the-middle tee ball both count as a stroke.
If putting is a weakness, then you have to ask yourself what’s the primary cause. Is it your technique or is it the fear of missing? This may simply be a chicken-or-the-egg question. Perhaps the quotes below will help you to determine whether it’s time to call the Pro Shop to schedule a lesson or it’s time to read a self-help book written by a guru who believes that fear is the greatest motivator of all or simply setting aside the time to practice more.
“Do not jerk the [putting] stroke, a fault usually resulting from a fear of sending the ball too far, and remember that the secret of good putting, as in good driving, is the follow through. – From the book, Hints to Golfers by Niblick (The Salem Press Company, 1902)
“There’s really only one thing that can make you a better putter: Practice. Only after hitting thousands and thousands of putts will you begin to develop feel. And feel is what makes a good putter.” – 1969 Masters champion George Archer (1939 – 2005). He had 13 PGA Tour and 19 PGA Tour Champions victories.
“In putting, distance is everything. You have to learn to hit the 15-foot putt 16 feet and the 30-foot putt 31 feet. Until you can get the ball by the hole, 10 to 14 inches every time, you’re not going to be a good putter.” – Former PGA Tour player and TV golf analyst Gary McCord.
“Have difficulty starting the putter head away from the ball smoothly? Tension is often the problem and the one way to break it down is to initiate the backswing off a slight forward press.” – Jack Nicklaus (b. 1940), winner of 18 Majors
“A lot of three-putts happen because players start looking up. They anticipate the hit. I do it. Not all the time, but I’m guilty of it. To stop looking up on your putts, listen for them to go in. Pretend your ball is on coin and when you putt the ball from the top of the coin, see you can tell me the date of that coin before you look up to see where the ball went.” – Six-time Major winner Lee Trevino.
“I try to play the highest line I can because I think that’s the safest way I can putt. I play all putts to die at the hole. However, on an approach putt, I’ll try to bring the ball in high and soft so it won’t get away from the hole that much. I think most people who three-putt hit the ball lower line and with the wrong speed.” – Ben Crenshaw, two-time Masters champion, 1984 and 1995.
“Solid contact is as important with your putter as it is with your 5-iron.” -- South African-born Zimbabwean Nick Price (b. 1957), winner of 3 Majors – 1994 U.S. Open and the 1992 & ’94 PGA.
“Ask any athlete who has thrown a block, sunk a free throw, hit a curveball and tried to play golf. Nine times out of 10, they’ll tell you that nothing in sports is as scary as a seven-foot putt you have to make.” – Sportswriter and broadcaster Dick Schapp (1934 to 2001)
(Cartoon by American Clare Briggs [1875 to 1930])