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Saturday, 16 September 2017

The Best Way to Putt

A buddy of mine and I were playing the other day and on one green--I think it was fifteen--he had about a twenty footer. I was in for my four and he needed the putt to win the hole. 

He rapped it about six feet past the hole, smiled, and said, "I wanted to make sure I got it to the hole." He then missed the comebacker.

There is an often-used expression about putting: "Never up, never in." And, on the face of it, it makes a great deal of sense. Yogi Berra observed that about ninety nine percent of putts left short don't go in. And those guys who run the ball past the hole can perhaps take some consolation in telling themselves they at least gave it a chance. But did they?

Bobby Jones wrote about putting, and he was not a big fan of "never up, never in." As far as he was concerned, a putt that misses long is still a miss. And he was convinced that the best way to putt was to die the ball in the hole from the high side. He was convinced that a ball dying at the hole had a better chance of going in because it would fall in no matter what part of the hole it hit. A putt hit with speed, on the other hand, had to be much closer to the center of the hole to go in. The hole, in his mind, was bigger for a ball moving slowly. That approach served him well, as it did Jack Nicklaus.

Thanks to Dave Peltz, who subjected putting to some real scientific study, we know "scientifically" that the optimum holing speed would have a putt that didn't go in finish seventeen inches past the hole. One of the problems for a dying putt approaching the hole, Peltz found, was the so-called "Donut Affect." Peltz found that on most greens, especially later in the day, the immediate area around the cup is raised and tends to reject a slow-moving ball. This Affect--or is it "Effect"--is caused in part by golfers taking care not to step right beside the hole. As a result, the area around the hole, perhaps a foot or so out, becomes depressed by foot prints that are invisible to the eye, but can affect a slow-rolling ball.

Peltz is probably correct about the optimum holing speed. I mean, you're not apparently supposed to argue with science. And, I suppose it would be great to be able to consistently produce that optimum speed. But Bobby Jones argued that, not only was the hole bigger for a dying putt, it was also very comforting if you missed to be able to walk up and tap the next one in. Putting aggressively might be great for guys with good nerves--guys who don't secretly cringe at the thought of a three-footer coming back. But, for "experienced" players like me, three-footers can really wear you out. 

In Bobby Jones' view of the world, a miss was a miss, whether short or long. There is no real consolation in saying that the putt you needed for the win at least finished past the hole. It still missed. So, if the hole really is bigger for a dying putt, I'm going to keep trying to die them in. If the odd one finishes short, I can live with being called "Nancy," or having my intestinal fortitude impuned. If you want them to finish seventeen inches past if they miss, all I can say is, to each their own. The best way to putt is ultimately the way you putt best.