I've always been a reasonable putter. In fact, it was on holiday many moons ago, during a session on the roly-poly putting green at Pitlochry, that I suddenly saw the light and decided to take up golf.
When I did initially start playing the game I could never fathom out why other beginners often couldn't judge pace or distance. I was always totally bewildered when someone struck, say, a 30-foot putt, and it ended up nowhere near the target. To me, putting was so easy, so simple.
Of course, I've learned that it's not quite so straightforward. Holing a two-foot putt on a Sunday outing at the seaside might be a simple task for your Granny, or even your five-year-old son or daughter. But in the context of 'this one for the Open', or even 'this one for the monthly medal', it is a completely different proposition.
The psychology of putting was rammed home during the Seve Trophy at the weekend. In the all or nothing atmosphere of matchplay at Druids Glen, players were knocking in putts from all over the place. In fact chip shots, and a glorious bunker shot from the great man himself, (Ballesteros) also obligingly dived into the cup.
It's the same at the Ryder Cup and the Solheim Cup. Is it not always astonishing how many chip shots and long putts end up in the hole? It's part of the reason that such events always provide such wonderful drama and a special brand of golfing entertainment.
But putting is such a frustrating aspect of the game. On the face of it, it should be so much easier than hitting a massive drive. But how many times do you see a world-class player miss a tiny putt at a vital moment? Doug Sanders, famously on the final green at the 1970 Open at St Andrews, certainly isn't alone.
In recent years, players have gone to any extent to try and find the answer to putting malaise. Many have shrugged off pride and hid their blushes behind the broom handle implements, while Colin Montgomerie - and he did look a little embarrassed during a televised confessional - has turned to the so-called belly putter in a desperate bid to regain form.
But will it last? At the start of this season, Scotland's Kathryn Marshall signed up with the long putter brigade. Having tried various methods over the years (left hand low, the Bernhard Langer 'clamp' and so on), she enlisted with much optimism. After all, she had spent the winter break religiously practising the new technique on her hall carpet, and everything had been running smoothly.
The initiation ceremony - a tournament in Sydney, Australia - worked out fine. But, by the time the US season had got underway just a few weeks later, she had reverted to 'normal'. According to Marshall, the long putter just didn't feel right on the course. But she maintains it was still a very worthwhile experiment. 'Now that I've gone back to conventional, it seems easier. Perhaps I'm a better putter than I thought I was.'
For Marshall, form on the greens has always tended to be a blight. But she fondly remembers her one Solheim Cup appearance - at St Pierre in Wales - when she formed a great partnership with Annika Sorenstam, and holed a bundle of vital putts. 'But matchplay is so different,' she wistfully relates. 'You can be so much more aggressive. I just wish it was like that all the time.'
On the LPGA Tour, a huge number of the top players putt have sought perfection by adopting left hand below right - Karrie Webb, Se Ri Pak and Juli Inkster to name but a few. As for another Scot, Catriona Matthew, she is going through a period of switch-about. Sometimes she trusts the conventional style; sometimes she goes with left hand low. If she starts to miss a few, then she makes the change.
If anyone ever found the secret to putting - imagine if you could guarantee to always hole everything from three feet in? - then they would never again need to dream about winning the Lottery. But, until then, the shortest shots in golf will continue to perplex the best, and scramble the minds of so many.
|| 22 - APRIL 2002