Putting – Microcosm of Everything Else

Most of What Happens on Tee and Fairway Can Happen Putting

After watching an afternoon of the 3M Tournament, which included a few putting woes, I am reminded that in several ways putting is not a separate game from the rest of it. When greens are difficult, or when a collective sense of “puttaphobia” overtakes a field, one can see the signs. They are often subtle, such as a player hurrying to grab the ball out of the hole before it changes its mind and comes back out. Chi-Chi Rodriguez used to put his hat over the hole, a good joke but indicative of the tension and ensuing relief.

It is a difficult transition when one has been on the tee, achieving whatever distance one can. Then, on long holes, municipal players sometimes  judge the next shot’s distance by choosing the club at the farthest range they can hit it. That, rather than the middle range at which they would be the most comfortable. So, the second shot is of the same mentality as the first. Suddenly, we’re on the green, and the game changes from “How much distance can we get? to “Can we control this distance? We need brakes!” Other than that, however, many things are similar, and faults in swing mechanics can replicate themselves into smaller versions while putting. The putting stroke is, after all, a drawn-in fraction of the full swing, not a separate action.

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I can recall many breakdowns in my golfing life, and have witnessed it in many others. For example, we all know the experience of hitting a shot on the toe out on the vast expanse. It happens on the green as well, primarily in two situations. One is on a long putt requiring distance. Over-swinging with the putter can land the ball absolutely anywhere on the club’s face, with a number of outcomes. A toed putt can travel half the distance to the hole, even if one used twice the force on the delivery. Remembering some of the early putters I owned, a lightweight Arnold Palmer blade model stands out. The sweet-spot was fine, but anything to the right or left of it felt like a cheap plastic putter a small child might find under the Christmas tree.I  actually  heard  a ‘clunk’  followed  by  a ‘boing!’  when  I missed  one.  It  wasn’t  Arnie’s  fault  –   it  was  mine.  

So let’s say we don’t toe it. Let’s say we hit it ‘fat.’ We’ve all done that, right? It’s a lesser version of the toe. Where you made 15 feet on a forty-footer, now you make 30 feet, and probably mess up the break. That ‘chintzy’ feeling is still present, and it’s still not Arnie’s fault. Even if we hit it dead center, the perils of “puttophobia” frighten us enough to withdraw our swing, or power it far beyond the prescribed length. After all, it’s the first time since the last hole that we’re thinking about distance control as a priority.

It hardly seems thinkable, but it is actually possible to shank a putt. More often than not, we only hit it on the heel, and many putter manufacturers have been the shaft out of the way so we can’t do a wedge number on the green. On some old models, it was possible, and happened to me more than once. On long putts, it was an erratic fore-swing that went awry. On short ones, it was a stabbing action that missed the mark.

There are two ways in the muni mind with which putting can be addressed. There’s the “snake” it through a hard series of breaks philosophy, and then there is the “I’m going to hit this so hard that physics wouldn’t allow it to break off.” It’s straight to the hole or nothing. “Snaking” gives away all of one’s power to nature and gravity, and sometimes that’s not a bad idea once the break or breaks have been read as well as possible. But not always. The “charge it” method keeps more power in the hands of the player, although not necessarily all the wisdom, plus the matter of comeback putts. It is that infinite number of degrees in between, and the struggle for the perfect balance that usually wins the match.

It’s not the quite same thing, but a perceived slice or hook is possible in putting. More realistically, it’s pushing and pulling, just as we sometimes do on the tee. The list goes on and on, but it behooves us not to bring a split personality to the green. We need to keep our best full swing mechanics in mind when it’s time for the ‘little mechanics,’ the ones that make such an enormously different outcome at the end of the day.

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