19th July, 2014

The putter, the cruelest golf club in your bag…..

~~From Touring Pros to Weekend Hackers, Rolling the Ball into the Hole Is More Art than Science,Putting seems too simple. Getting a golf ball airborne, with the proper trajectory and correct direction , is the most difficult aspect of the game. Striking the ball is the athletic part of golf, the coordination of arms, shoulders, wrists, hands, hips and legs to impart force to a ball and launch it toward an area of closely mown grass marked by a handkerchief waving from a tall rod. And then there's putting, which requires about as much athleticism as rolling over in bed next to a woman. Less, actually.
But putting is the cruelest part of the game. A three-inch putt counts as much as a 300-yard drive. Two putts from five feet added to two strokes from a quarter of a mile make a total of four. You're a chop when you can't hit a wedge 100 yards; you're a chump when you can't make an eight-footer. Most of us would rather be a chop than a chump, because from 100 yards you have excuses. From eight feet you are just pathetic.
Did you know that Mr. Hogan, one of the game's all-time greats, once suggested that putting count less than full strokes? He was being serious, as Mr. Hogan always was about golf.Mr. Hogan did not see fit to count putting as fundamental. To Mr. Hogan, golf was about sending a ball through the air, not about rolling it across the ground, so he just ignored it. But just like every 36-handicapper, he had to add his putts into his final score.
Mr.Hogan would not have won nine major championships without being a very good putter. That didn't mean he had to feel good about putting; it was just something he had to do after playing his immaculate shots. As with all great champions, like Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Walter Hagen, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino and Tiger Woods, Hogan hit the ball close enough to that four-and-a-quarter-inch-diameter hole in the green to increase his chances of making his putts. No part of golf causes greater consternation, depression and self-deprecation than the inability to roll a ball into a hole. The wondrously named Ky Laffoon from Zinc, Arkansas, was a professional golfer of note in the middle part of the twentieth century who was equal parts talent and out-of-control temper. He was a great character who loved canary yellow slacks and matching shoes. He was good enough to play the PGA Tour, win a few tournaments in the 1930s and contend in a couple of majors. But his putting would often get the best of him, bringing out his worst. Missed putts inflamed his legendary temper. He just couldn't stand it when he missed a makeable putt, an attitude you might decipher when you understand that his nickname for any of his putters was "my son-of-bitch."
His anger was such that he would violently abuse his putter, or himself. After a particularly bad bout of choke-and-puke putting in a tournament, Ky Laffoon drove to the next event with the putter tied to the rear bumper of the car. Another time, after missing a short putt, he threw his putter in the air, positioned himself underneath its downward flight and, instead of catching it, allowed it to hit him in the head. He once became so enraged at missing a short putt that he slugged himself in the chin, knocking himself out.
Former touring pro Tommy Valentine, driving from one event to another in Florida, held his putter out the car window and cursed at it. Then he threw it into a swamp. He wanted it to suffer a little before he killed it. Current touring pro Mark Calcavecchia once threw his putter in a water hazard after missing a short putt and finished out his round putting with an iron. "It had to die," was his explanation. Putting does this to grown men. Putting is something that is very easy to do, but not easy to do well,I say it as a man who has made his career out of teaching putting and the short game. It's much easier to do than hit a golf ball 200 yards. Therefore, the expectation level of success is higher. But the fact is, there are a lot of variables that go into making a putt, and if you get one wrong, you don't make it. But because you really expect to make it, it gets frustrating.
The simple fact about putting is this: you could take someone who has never played the game, never considered playing it, never once held a club in his hands, give him a 30-second primer on the basic putting stroke, line him up for a 20-foot putt, and he would have a chance to make it. Take that same person, put him in a fairway 150 yards from the green, give him the same basic lesson for a full swing, and he would have almost no chance of hitting the green. Tiger Woods would have a thousand times better chance of hitting the green from 150 yards, but only four or five times better chance of holing the putt.
When they speak of golf being a six-inch game played between the ears, mostly they are talking about putting. At any one time, a player will tell you that he can't hit a driver, that his middle-iron play is impossible, that he can't play sand shots, all because his head won't let him. Yet at the end of the day, what is the one phrase uttered commonly by chops and by professional players: "If only I could make a few putts…"
It's a mental thing, putting, mainly, you've got to get over the fear of not making a putt, just maybe not giving a damn, play like you used to play when you were a beginner. That sometimes takes a while. Consider this an 83-year-old who came to me for lessons in Australia. He had played all his life and had always blamed his putting for not being a better player, I told him; "The putting surface is not perfect. The putting surface is continually changing. People don't understand that, but it's the nature of the game. When he understood the green is not a perfect surface, it relieved him; that he, personally, was not responsible for every putt he missed. Then he went out and won a tournament.
Putting is the most intensely personal aspect of golf. Swings may differ, but good swings don't differ by a lot. Jim Furyk's loop-dee-loop is an aberration but it won him a U.S. Open. At least it put him in position to win the U.S. Open. He finished off the job with his crosshanded putting style, his left hand below his right on the grip. Conventional putting has the right hand below the left on the grip for a right-handed player, but then there is nothing particularly conventional about putting. If you were to line up the great players through the ages on a practice green, you might be amazed at their different approaches to the putting stroke. Jack Nicklaus doesn't look anything like Arnold Palmer who doesn't look anything like Billy Casper who doesn't look anything like Gary Player who doesn't look anything like Bobby Jones. And remember that Sam Snead, who possessed one of the most beautiful classic swings of all time—one that any player would like to emulate—ended his career by putting ugly, using a "sidesaddle" putting stroke after the United States Golf Association outlawed his croquet-style approach.
Players use push strokes, pop strokes, wrist strokes, pendulum strokes, hook strokes, cut strokes and any combination thereof. And how they stroke the ball has an effect on how they line it up. Tiger Woods has a classic pendulum stroke, a back and forth motion with the impetus coming chiefly from the shoulders which I like and I teach.
Jack Nicklaus pushes the ball. Lee Trevino blocks it. Arnold Palmer powers it. Billy Casper wrists it. Trevino was fond of describing Nicklaus as the greatest streak putter of all time, a streak that lasted more than two decades. In winning his 18 major championships, Nicklaus had the ability to hole every important putt. He was probably the best putter from 10 to 15 feet who ever bent over a ball and looked just a little silly doing it. Nicklaus's putting style was decidedly his own. He used his right arm as a piston, bent at nearly a 90 degree angle. He pushed the putter with the palm of his right hand. You don't see anyone teaching the Nicklaus style, anyone emulating it. Nicklaus was the inspiration for many contemporary PGA Tour players, but they didn't want to putt like him.
Jack had a style of his own and it worked for a hell of a long time,however I couldn't putt like that. It doesn't fit my body, doesn't fit my eye. That's why putting is such a personal deal. I don't read putts like someone else reads putts. I don't see my line like other guys do. Heck, they have robots they use to test putters, same stroke every time, and they can't make them all.
You won't find even the greatest of players describing themselves as great putters. It's even difficult for their lips to form the word "good" when it comes to describing their putting ability. Players at the highest level expect to make every putt under 20 feet (well, maybe not at Augusta National), and when they don't, there is disappointment. But what sets the great putters apart is not only their ability to make putts, but also their understanding that they will miss them. There's just so much that goes into making a putt, and obviously the farther away from the hole you are, the greater these factors become. Great players are able to add up all these factors instinctively and that's why, even when they miss, they can come so close. Remember, it's not that you will make every putt, but it sure helps when you miss to have a tap-in coming back.
So far as to describe my  factors that go into successful putting, from the physical—aim, touch, green reading—to the mental—attitude, routine, ritual. Not that I would want you to be thinking about all of them as you lined up the crucial putt for a 5 Leva bet with your Saturday morning group.
 In my clinics conducted at Lighthouse Golf Course,I will take you through all my personally researched elements of the good putting stroke, I am likely to stick a tee in the green maybe 15 inches past a hole and tell you to make sure that you never go past the tee. To me, it's all about getting the right pace on putts, I don't try to ram the ball into the hole, because if you do and you miss, then you have a sizable putt coming back. If a ball dies around the hole, it has a chance to go in, and you don't have to worry about the second putt if it doesn't.
There's no doubt that putting is a creative process, an art form. There are technical aspects of the putting stroke that allow you to make a good stroke all the time, impart the proper force and get the ball rolling well. But there's a lot of creativity to reading greens and having the ability to see the putts going in before you've made the stroke. Not all players will read them quite the same. Just because a putt breaks left doesn't mean that every player will play for the same amount of break to the left. It depends on the pace of their putts. Everything is different about everybody. That's what make this game so fascinating.
A big part of the head game of putting is the choice of the deadly weapon itself. There has been an explosion in the variety of putters in the last 20 years. In my playing days they were roughly divided into the blade and mallet head styles. Now you have putters with two balls trailing the face, putters that look like branding irons, putters with synthetic faces for such a soft feel that the ball seems like a bar of soap when you hit it. There are putters that come up to the belly and putters that come up to the chin.
Consider this: Arnold Palmer may have used as many as 2,000 putters in his career. He played head games with his putters and they played head games with him. Arnie has barrels of them, enough to stock golf stores from coast to coast. It wasn't unusual for him to change putters during a tournament, and more than once. By contrast, Tiger Woods has used just five putters over the last dozen years. When he began the 2004 season at the Mercedes Championships at Kapalua, he was using the same Scotty Cameron Titleist putter that he had been using since the 1999 Byron Nelson Classic. He knows if is not making putts, it's a good chance that it's him and not the putter.
Which is both true and not true, depending on the state of your head. The weight of a putter is important to your ability to feel the putt, and the face and head are important to your ability to align it and strike it properly And that's different for every person.The Misu Negritoiu putter which he has left at the club for me to use after one round, went directly for sale on E-bay.
Then there's Doug Sanders. You may remember him as one of the most flamboyant characters in the game, and, sober, he could also golf his ball pretty well. People remember him for his peacock clothing, for having 30 different colors of slacks with 30 different shoes to match, and enough sweaters to insulate the Vatican. But if you remember anything about his golf game, it's the 30-inch putt he missed on the 18th green of the Old Course at St. Andrews in the 1970 British Open. He needed that par putt to win. As his putter was about to strike the ball, however, his body seemed to go into spasm. He all but lunged forward, staggering as if he had just finished off his 15th beer pint. The ball never had a chance. The bogey dropped him into a tie with Jack Nicklaus, who won a playoff the next day."That's the putt that everybody remembers," Sanders often says. "That's the putt I remember, too."
If you remember the putt that won Phil Mickelson the Masters in 2004 you will understand what I am saying. He made a number of brilliant shots along the way, but it was the putt on the 18th that put a green jacket on his shoulders and took the monkey off his back in major tournaments. That's the thing about putting. It's the last thing you do before you sign the scorecard, just like the professionals. It's the one thing you have in common with us, the ability to say, "If I could have just made a few more putts…….."