One of the skilful columnist’s tricks is to make us feel better about ourselves. We warm to him, and will read him again. There is enough in life and golf to depress us, without having the newspaper add to our woes.
“Most of us have at some time or other jabbed our putter into the ground and left the ball motionless,” he writes. After a night of bad sleep and the usual putting nightmare, this cheers me up no end.
Darwin, for it is he, goes on to mention the young subaltern who, when playing a foursome with a major, on the last green, under the clubhouse windows, with everything depending on the hole, “left the ball severely alone; he must have missed it by a good six inches.” Taking everything into consideration, Darwin reckoned this “the finest and most flawless example of the air shot” he ever saw. I put down the book and moved to my work station in a greatly improved frame of mind. The flawless air shot. Six inches! Marvellous.
This train of thought took me to an American golf instruction column about the benefits of an aggressive approach to putting. The writer makes the fair if obvious point that this is more typical of match play, when the putt is often a do or die moment, than strokeplay when we must nurse a score. Perhaps we should try to bring matchplay mentality to bear on our medal rounds, he may be saying.
Ian Poulter is quoted: “I hole 100% of my putts from 3 feet so I’m comfortable hitting it 3 feet past.” Good for you Ian. Your bulletproof confidence and short range solidity is much to be envied. Don’t take up journalism. We won’t warm to you.
The coach writes: “If the average amateur … focused on nothing more than hitting every putt to the hole and no more than three feet past the hole, scores would go down dramatically.”
I am afraid this statement shows a lamentable failure to understand what it is to inhabit the feeble body of the average, or worse than average, amateur. As if trying to hit the ball no more than three feet past the hole is actually going to make such a thing happen! What does he imagine we try to do? Obviously, if we hit all our putts to within three feet of the hole, bold or shy, our scores would improve. But we don’t. We’re no good at putting.
A more interesting question might be: if we never left a putt short of the hole, would our score improve? Low handicappers and generous dispensers of unsolicited advice are always telling us it would. “Never up, never in,” they say. “Give it a chance.” Quite.
I played a round recently – not that recently, since the weather in Britain has been such that I doubt a round of golf has been played in the kingdom for the last six weeks, but recently enough for me to remember – with a strong player who made a big thing of his manly, ‘back of the hole’ approach to the game. It was all very macho especially on the green, where he gave the ball a hefty biff – take that! – and often sent it careering past. This was not matchplay, but a stableford.
Macho man gave a contemptuous snort whenever my feeble effort dribbled to a stop somewhere near Swanley on its way from Canterbury to London Bridge. His would have gone in or steamed blithely on to St Albans. And when I salvaged a par after nurdling a 15-ft birdie putt three quarters of the way to the hole, he crushed my celebrations by saying “I’d rather have made bogey than par like that.”
After this I silently began to count the number of times Mr Macho missed the return putt compared with the number of first putts he holed. The result was a tennis score: 6 – 2. To which I could add, if I wanted to season this statistic with a little salt, the two occasions when his well-directed first putt lipped out because it was rolling too fast to fall in. He naturally took this as a sign of the Gods cruelly conspiring against him, but they weren’t. He just hit it too hard.
How often do we have a putt to halve a hole, send it rushing by, and console ourselves in defeat by saying “at least I gave it a chance”? No we didn’t. Travelling at that speed, the ball had almost no chance of dropping, even if it hit the hole.
So perhaps there is something to be said for the lag. I’m not proud of it, but it is not the worst crime on the golf course. Weak putters, stop beating yourselves up. At least you hit the ball, unlike the poor subaltern.
If you’re feeling low, find consolation in this gallery of missed tiddlers.