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Feb 07

The Mad Art of Lining Up a Putt

Secrets of Lining Up a Putt

I’ve played golf for a very long time now, so needless to say, I’ve done a lot of putting – far too much if you ask me. I’ve been watching professional golf from childhood as well, and have watched more putting than is probably good for me – a lifetime of watching the best attempt to capture the uncapturable, systematize the most unruly aspect of the game, “exalt every valley, make the crooked straight and the rough places plain”, to be scriptural about it.

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As a kid, I was fascinated to watch Gary Player plumb bob his putts with the inner ferocity of Genghis Khan, and was sure that he would have brought half of NASA with him, were it allowed. All right, I get the general idea of plumb bobbing. Stand behind, let the putter hang naturally, raise it for the shaft to block the ball, and close your non-dominant eye (I had overlooked that, no joke intended) to see which side of the shaft the ball sits on. Presumably, that’s the way it will break.  But, as a weekender, how does that tell me how far it will break, and won’t I forget what I just learned as I break that stance and turn to address the ball? Don’t tell me I won’t – you won’t maybe, but I will.

etiquetteThere are even articles written on how to find your dominant eye. What a rube I must have been learning this game. Imagine those old guys hanging around the second tee looking back at the first green – “Geez, kid can’t even find his dominant eye!”

Soon after childhood, the age of athletic putt liner-uppers emerged, and the question became, “can I do this and still finish the round without going into traction?” Men and women of both tours did this, and they all looked as if they’d played Twister all night at a frat party (anyone here remember Twister? Oh good…)

The point, I guess, was to get themselves down to eye level with the ball, to see, in a manner of speaking, what the ball was seeing. For me, had I been able to get down to that level, a grassy universe of imperfect physics would have been revealed, almost surely causing me to give up entirely. Could the ball “see”, it would be aware of hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of potentially course-altering events in its path, from one blade of grass simply being stronger than another to a crumb of the local squirrel’s acorn from the past evening. As a golfer, it made me just want to say “Ommmm” and hit the dumb thing instinctively.

etiquette 2Instinct isn’t so bad, actually, when used within reason. One academic golf coach suggests, however, that when you line up a putt, make a decision, then make another once you’re over the ball, the second decision is probably wrong. Who are you kidding? There is a ninety-seven percent chance that both of my decisions were four-putt bound, and we both know it.

I’ve watched players piggy-back putt, crouching together behind the ball like meer cats and sizing it up, one directly behind the other. That sounds dangerously like committee golf, and I’ve never seen a committee come up with much of anything anywhere else in life. However, my scratch brother used to do that with me when we were kids. After he had reversed my first diagnosis, I would obediently follow his wisdom. He stopped doing it because I made too many putts. I just can’t win in this trajectory-oriented world.

What I ended up with was to walk the straight line from the green’s edge toward ball and hole, hoping that the topography would reveal its secrets as I came forward. Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn’t.  I still can’t overcome the fear of putting at a mark two feet away to accomplish a twenty-foot putt, as so many recommend. It makes all kinds of sense, but I just can’t do it. I”m a big-picture person.

Well, the controversy’s not over yet for me. I’m still looking for the golden key. Meanwhile, this sure is nice scenery, isn’t it? Oh, am I away?

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About the author

G.F. Skipworth

has spent every available moment playing golf or studying the greats since the 60s, in between world tours as a classical musician, Harvard studies in Government or as the author of a dozen novels. Nicklaus and Snead may be the statistical greats, but Skipworth is a life-long devotee of Gary Player, and considers meeting the South African at the Jeld-Wen to be an unforgettable milestone. His driving passion in golf these days is to raise viewer interest in the LPGA.