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Putting Misery
seeks Company

Golf can be a miserable game. Each of us can remember an occasion of sheer putting misery when during the round we have felt dejected, fed-up, and ready to retire our clubs for good.

'Tis the only comfort of the miserable to have partners in their woes.

Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) Spanish novelist, dramatist and poet

Club houses have recognised the need for a 19th hole where time and alcohol can dull our senses. In the company of fellow golfers we can placate our putting misery and other woes after the game. Names such as 'The Wailing Wall' or 'Grumble Gully' direct you to an oasis in the desert of discontent and despair where you can openly air grievances on any aspect of the game, or life for that matter.

Why does poor putting lead to such overwhelming frustration, putting misery and, if unchecked, one step closer to the abandonment of the game? The answer in short is perspective. On the golf course most of us lose our sense of perspective at one time or another.

Some of us may even lose our sanity rather like in road rage. Temporary insanity may be offered as a mitigating circumstance in a court of law for knocking the lights out of a fellow motorist, but it has no place on a golf course.

One year in the Canada Cup (now the World Cup of Golf) a competitor of Latin blood, having missed a short putt picked up his ball and bit it. Unfortunately, apart from incurring a penalty for handling the ball, he also broke his tooth. As golfers we can understand his frustration, a forerunner of putting misery.

So what perspective should we bring to the game of golf?

Greg Norman after his historic collapse in the 1996 Masters against Nick Faldo showed the true spirit of a champion in the post-match interview. He said "Of course, I am disappointed. I put all the blame on myself. I am a winner, but I just didn't win today. It's not the end of the world. I'll still wake up tomorrow breathing - I hope. That's golf, you know. I am very philosophical".

I know from personal experience that most people who play golf are over-expecters and under-achievers. And this is how it should be. We go out in hope, but only beat our handicap in one of ten games.

Behold the golfer.
He riseth up early in the morning
and disturbeth the whole household.
Mighty are his preparations.
He goeth forth full of hope
and when the day is spent,
he returneth home smelling of strong drink
and the truth is not in him.

In truth we miss putts because there are a number of factors that can affect any one putt. The only factor we can control is our ability. As amateurs we haven’t put in the endless hours of practice. We don’t have the experience of the professional golfer, yet we expect the same results.

Even professionals with one chance to read and stroke a putt during tournament play only have a success rate of around 65% for a six foot putt.

The shorter the putt, the greater is our expectation of making it. By the same token, the more bitter the disappointment and frustration if we miss it. As we get closer to the hole our performance anxiety increases. Short putting starts to take on the frightening aspect of public speaking.

To put matters into perspective we should think to ourselves "What is the worst thing that can happen if I miss this putt"? In all probability not a lot, so we should just set up, take aim and putt.

Brad Faxon in his instructional video Putt to Win with Dr Bob Rotella gives the best account of the state of mind one should adopt to avoid putting misery. Here is a brief excerpt:

"And today we are going to talk about attitude, and putting is an attitude, and is a state of mind. We are going to talk about feeling like you are playing at putting, and playing a game, and we talk an awful lot about the game within the game, and that you have to feel playful when on the putting green, and you have to have a playful attitude, and an attitude that this is a game, and it has to be played, and you have basically to develop a passionate love affair with putting".

So what is the solution to keeping putting misery at bay? In brief, the more you practise putting with a purpose, rather than idling knocking a ball around the practice putting green, the more you will improve your chance of holing the putt. You have to decide if you have the time or willingness to work at your game. Whatever you do, you have to learn how to accept with good grace the result of each putt.

Everybody who is competitive gets a little hot under the collar when the putt slides by, hangs on the lip, or is deviated by a spike mark or unnoticed pitch mark. How you deal with the outcome will ultimately determine your success as a putter.

As Carlos Castaneda, the Peruvian born American best selling author states "The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same".

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