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Tee Times Magazine | Minneapolis/St. Paul

Breezy Point

Local Golf
September 24, 2017

THE ART OF PUTTING
By Tom Abts


Putting has been called, "A game within a game." But it also involves the end result of the game - getting the ball into the hole.

Most golf shots are about flying the ball in the air from point A to point B. However, putting is about rolling the ball on the green into the hole.

Are they that different from each other? Is putting really, "A game within a game?"

If this were a debate, I would take the side that says that putting is not different from the rest of the game. So here's my argument:

Golf is played by hitting a ball with a stick... from the tee box to the hole in the green. You can use 14 USGA approved sticks to hit a variety of shots to reach your goal. Most people refer to these sticks as clubs - but golf is originally a game played by Scottish shepherds to pass the time. They hit a rock with a stick from point A to point B and the winner took a drink from the other shepherd's bottle of whisky. Some people have said 18 shots in a bottle - thus 18 holes of golf. Whatever the real history, golf is played one hole at a time, and is finished when the player's ball ends up in the cup/hole.

Could you use a putter for every shot? Yes - but you'd be making the game pretty difficult. We used to do this in Arizona and use a Bullseye putter for the madness. It wasn't as hard to drive it off a tee as you'd expect. But fairway shots were pretty difficult because it was tough to get the ball airborn without a tee. And running it along the ground only worked if the fairway was really closely mowed. Certain bunker shots were really difficult. Yet, this goofiness was good for our course management and a good way to more understanding of how to hit golf shots.

The technology and design of golf clubs is intended to make shotmaking easier than just using a putter for all shots. Iron clubs with loft are intended to help get the ball up in the air and over hazards... and help the ball stop on the green and not run off the back. Obviously, a club with a lot of loft that hits the ball straight up in the air won't hit the ball as far as a less lofted club. So, much effort has been put into teaching one golf swing that can be used with a variety of clubs to hit the ball different distances. However, even the best golf swing must adjust to different shots and conditions. A ball sitting in a bad lie needs to be hit down on more than a usual swing. And, a ball sitting up on a tee should not be hit down on at all. In fact, on our previous driving range (before POWER TEE), the teeing area was littered with a million broken tees from players hitting down on their drivers instead of sweeping the ball up in the air off the tee. That's why a driver has little loft and so much bulk - it's designed to sweep the ball off of a tee. Likewise, trying to sweep the ball out of that bad lie will result in a topped shot. You actually could use a putter for each shot if you adjusted your swing for the lie, but it would be more difficult than using a club that is designed for such a purpose.

This takes us back to the notion of putting being "a game within a game," or is it not. It seems to me that golf is a game about advancing the ball with a variety of clubs to get it from the tee to the cup/hole. The putter is just better at rolling the ball on the green. Though, I have to admit, that for years I putted better using a sand wedge than a putter. Why? Because I had a bad attitude about putting. Using a sand wedge kept putting interesting for me (and gave me an excuse if I missed). I couldn't stand the thought that missing a short putt meant more than or nullified hitting a good shot. It's like the Vikings marching all the way up the field only to fumble on the one yard line. The reality of that made me crazy. I didn't embrace what the game is all about. I thought hitting shots was what golf was all about. I resented how much putting mattered. Was that a very grown-up attitude? Not so much.

Why am I all of sudden not hostile about putting? Because I found a putter that feels good. Seriously. I've never really liked any putter... they looked and felt wrong. That's probably why I putted better with my sand wedge. And, for once I'm trying to MAKE putts. All of my life I've tried not to MISS putts. That's a huge difference. Maybe it's not really the putter, but the idea that I can make putts. With the sand wedge I tried to make putts. With a putter I tried not to miss, then resented it when I missed, then I resented putting.

And yet, this is at the heart of the game of golf. Trying to hit the ball where you want it to go, or play "golf swing." I got over playing "golf swing" years ago with golf shots, but not with the putter. With the putter I just tried to make decent stroke and hoped I got lucky. Ugh. It's a lot more fun trying to make the putt.

So, back to the argument about whether golf is a different game. No. The object of every shot is to hit the ball where you want it to go. We've become way too process oriented instead of results oriented. And it ain't any fun.

As Harvey Penick used to say, "Take dead aim." And then do it. On all shots. Especially putting.






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