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Do you have
a Golden Stroke?

Every golfer wants to putt better - find the Golden Stroke - just as everyone would secretly like to win the lottery or have a hole-in-one.

Nothing else is so commonly bewailed in golf as inability to putt well.

Francis Ouimet, Winner 1913 US Open.

With the passage of time most come to accept that their putting is a lost cause, a mystery never to be solved, though some poor souls eventually give up the game to retain their sanity.

"It takes too long" they say without conviction, when in reality poor putting has driven them away from the game. The stubborn, the hopeful and the steadfast struggle on, searching for the Golden Stroke, yet realising that the future holds out little real hope of a sustained improvement on the greens.

Not for them the superior attitude and after-game bragging rights of recording less than 30 putts a round on a regular basis. To be labeled a good putter is an accolade of the highest order, like receiving a Golden Stroke Oscar.

So why do so few golfers putt well? Put differently, why do so many otherwise successful people putt badly? After all putting is nothing more than hitting a small ball into a hole two and a half times its width. Can anything be simpler? Apparently for most of us, the answer is yes.

Does bad eyesight cause poor putting, a case for Lasik surgery, or is the average person mentally inept when faced with a short putt? Could it be simply a question of inferior technique that buckles under competitive pressure? Are we without feel or touch for such a delicate task? Perhaps we are just clueless like a husband in a supermarket without his wife’s shopping list.

I have pondered these questions over many years of research into the Art and Science of putting. I have combined this with hours of experimentation and observation. In the end, for each question answered, another arises. Tip after tip from golfing magazines and books fails to diminish the mystery. History, it appears, has also struggled to find the 'Golden Stroke'.

Ben Hogan, a good putter, but never in the same league as Bobby Locke or Billy Casper, felt that putting should not form a significant part of the game as success depended too much on it. He contended that superior ball-striking was what really counted and campaigned for a larger hole to reduce the emphasis on putting. In the later years of his career he, like Sam Snead, suffered from a dreadful case of the yips.

Pat Ward-Thomas wrote about Ben Hogan in Country Life (June 1964) "For some years there has been talk that he had reached such a state with holing out that he could not get the putter back and would remain locked in a frozen agony".

Henry Cotton in his 70s would pick up his ball within 10 feet of the hole, on the strength that in his prime he would have sunk the putt. Peter Jacobsen, as a youngster when playing with his father and brother, played by the rule of no putting as it only held up play.

However, like it or not, putting is part of golf as the rules require that we hole out in stroke play. Many a result hinges on the final putt on the last green.

Simon Hobday, 1994 winner of the US Senior Open, is quoted as saying that his feet hurt when he stepped on to the green. In one tournament he produced a yellow card and sternly presented it to his putter. At the end of the round, the putter, having carelessly not heeded the earlier warning, got the inevitable red card. Its final indignity was being attached to the bumper of Simon’s car as he drove back to his hotel.

So putting is here to stay and continues to account for over 40% of our game. We can either love it or hate it, but we have to do it nonetheless. Faced with this reality, it is sensible to try and improve - find the elusive Golden Stroke.

Putting as we golfers know is a serious business, but far less important than breathing. Gaining perspective is, therefore, an important first lesson in putting.

It is amazing what invectives are directed at the ball or putter, when in reality the cause of poor putting is staring the golfer in the face. However, deep down we don’t believe that we are to blame. The fix inevitably is the acquisition of a new putter. The honeymoon period usually lasts only one or two weeks.

Max Faulkner, the 1951 British Open champion, assembled over 300 putters many of which he made himself in his search for the Golden Stroke or what Tommy Armour called 'The Great Answer'.

Arnold Palmer was reputed to take several putters to each tournament deciding on the day which putter was in favour, prompting Jackie Burke on seeing eight putters in his bag to remark "That’s a bag of indecisions". Bobby Locke, known for his putting prowess, used the same putter throughout his career.

Putting is a combination of vision, technique, touch and mental control. Each plays a part in rounding out the persona of a good putter. You can’t putt well simply by having a good attitude, though being positive and confident is necessary for sinking putts.

You can’t putt well by having excellent stroke mechanics, though without a fundamentally sound stroke, you are unlikely to succeed. Strangely enough you can putt well without sight as long as there is someone to line you up to the target.

The putting blues can be overcome. There is no gene that makes a good putter. It is not a physical endeavour requiring great strength. Age is no barrier to success. Mind you, I can attest to an increased difficulty of squatting behind the ball to see the line.

Surprisingly putting can also be fun. Seeing your opponent’s face when you sink a long putt gives a moment of joy, a feeling of smugness. In that brief interlude of time, all seems right with the world.

In the final analysis putting is a microcosm of life as there are no guarantees on any one putt, no matter how short or well-struck. However, that said, good putters with the Golden Stroke come out on top, poor putters inevitably pay for the drinks.

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