What’s Behind Mental Aspect of Putting?

Logistically, Putting is Microcosm of Driving, but Different for Mind

From the tee, the basic requirement is that you place the ball somewhere out there in the vast expanse where the grass is still green, short, and from which you can see the green. The result shouldn’t be wet, sandy, or hidden in tall grass. That’s the caveman definition. Putting has one, too. Send the ball toward that hole in the ground, ideally making it pass over the abyss at a speed where it is likely to fall in. The latter is a tiny version of the former.

As to the differences, muscle is toned down from the tee to the green, and partial, graded strength is required in putting. Humans don’t like that. It’s easier for muscles to be at rest or at maximum alert. Where the refined muscularity of putting is needed, we no longer worry so much about strength. Our minds alternate to another slate of fears. The lag putt that ends up eight feet short means a likely three-putt in the mind of many typical muni players, and a three foot character builder can be the most frightening putt of all. There are perhaps more demons to exorcise in putting than in any other part of the game. It directly reflects what we are afraid of, and how well we handle fear in general. The person who doesn’t know what I’m talking about is fortunate, indeed. Of course, it can make the difference of thousands of dollars to a pro. For the rest of us, whether or not we make the putt is tangibly meaningless, except to pride and to the ruined pleasure of failure to imitate the pro.

In addition to normal putting fears, there’s the complex that expresses itself in the player’s head this way – “After all the work I did to get here (to the green) I’m going to ruin it all with a four-putt – how like me.” Then the twitches and various other signs of discomfort begin to appear. I’ve watched many professional golfers who are fine putters with a curiosity as to why they are more successful and less rattled. The answer is elusive, but it appears as though they’ve gotten over the hump of hope versus fear and possibility versus danger.

One particularly long putt Paula Creamer sank in the last year or two interested me, a 75-footer. She generally putts well anyway, but I thought I could see a successful tuning out process at work in her preparation. Her line of sight seemed to narrow until the outer world appeared not to exist at all. Getting the right read was a job to do, not a thing to fear. We all get some of them right, and we all miss some of them. Creamer seems like she has a positive and possibility-oriented approach that outdistances the horror show of what might happen if she doesn’t get it right.

That potential horror show, when a putt is prepared in desperation and against the backdrop of impending tragedy is like the feeling one experiences in miniature golf with holes designed to be impossible. Even if you’ve stroked it perfectly, some dumb Dutch windmill is going to knock you into the next fairway anyway. It’s the carnival mirror, “I have no control over this – I’d better shut my eyes, stab it and just hope” approach.

The great pros we have watched over the years line up an eight-footer with the absolute intent of sinking it, and the great ones are surprised when they don’t.  I doubt they line up a putt like some of us do, and believe the ground is shifting as we address the ball. They probably don’t hallucinate breaks that don’t exist, or weren’t there when we first looked at it. They pin it down by narrowing it down. They are all about reality while some of us putt in a dream state.

Driving tests our technique, but on the green, putting tests our ability to face life problems armed with a solution and a a can-do mindset. Become a good, or at least an improved putter by changing your belief system, and it may be pay off elsewhere in life.

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