The flatstick. The wand. The putter. It's the club in the bag most likely to ... most likely to break your heart, most likely to keep you up at night.
It interrupts your sleep even on that rare occasion when you're rolling it good, maybe especially when you're rolling it good. Conversely, when the putter is going bad, you might still be awake, but it's anger that brings that brand of unrest.
Count your putts sometime, if you dare. A touring pro is looking for a round with putts numbering in the 20s, while you and I are flailing away more than 30 times per round, probably closer to 40 times on a bad day for a high handicapper.
Everyone loves to hit drivers at the range, but it if you want to lower your scores, shave some strokes by becoming a better putter.Walk to the putting green and leave your long clubs in the trunk - and, practice, practice, practice your putting. Ask your local pro how many calls he gets for a putting lesson compared to the number of people who want to add length. I bet the numbers are a long driver apart.
So, your putting is no good from long distance, and your iron play stinks. Let's admit that much. All it means is you likely hit a lot of lousy long first putts that leave you with difficult second putts to save par or worse.
Hitting the ball closer is one strategy, but that's hard to do. Getting a better feel for the greens is a relatively straightforward task.
Get out on the putting green and work it out. Maybe you can go with a friend and make a game of it. A putting lesson will improve your mechanics at the very least.
When you start to see some improvement, practice your visualization techniques by conjuring images of the great ones. Here are a few to warm your golfer's heart.
Remember when Tom Watson was in his prime, wielding that Ping Pal like an automatic weapon? And you thought Tiger Woods could putt back before the world found out all about him.
Watson's putts hit the hole with a violent authority, rammed in by a man with complete confidence. The back of the cup seemed injured by a Watson make. He rattled them home the same way, no matter if the distance was 60 feet or just six. It's as if he was daring the hole to get in the way of his speeding golf ball.
You can always come up with a picture in your mind of A.P. - Arnold Palmer. He seemed in pain, scrunched over with his knees together, his head bowed over the ball, always bold, going for broke. Charging the hole like a young Arnie is not a bad thought.
And nobody made more putts under pressure with victory or survival on the line than Jack Nicklaus. There are so many highlights of Jack dropping a putt in on the 72nd hole.
For all he did, I almost can't think of him without the image of him staring down his birdie at Augusta on the 17th on Sunday as he set the golfing world ablaze on an April afternoon in 1986.
He bent from the waist, his laser stare tracing the ball all the way into the hole, and then he raised his putter to the sky as an exclamation point. The putter, a MacGregor Response ZT, had an oversized head; it looked like a hockey stick.
There's a photo I like of Lee Trevino winning his last major, the PGA Championship at Shoal Creek in Alabama in 1984. Trevino is shown kissing his new putter, one he had recently picked out of a bag in Holland.
He's kissing the putter because he just rolled in a putt on the last hole, but also because he knew it was the club that won the tournament for him. Trevino is 44 in the photo, his hair still black. It would be his last victory on the PGA Tour, and it makes for another good image to keep in mind as you work on your own putting.
Sometimes, not often, a skilled player will give a nickname to his favorite putter. Bobby Jones called his blade putter Calamity Jane. The silky smooth Ben Crenshaw had a Wilson 8802 that he dubbed Little Ben.
Maybe the greatest name comes from the highbrow cinema that is "Caddyshack," when Judge Smails removed the protective cover from his trusty putter that he breathily called Billy Baroo.
Sometimes the manufacturers get it right with a name. The Bullseye by Acushnet. Great name. I had one for a while, but the material was so soft that if you threw the putter at your bag - hypothetically speaking, of course - it would bend at the hosel.
Ping is another great name - an entire company based on the sound the founder's first putter made when he putted the ball around in his kitchen.
That guy, of course, was Karsten Solheim, once an engineer for General Electric, who changed the face of golf with his late-night tinkering with club design.
So whether you're a player who likes a cross-handed grip or traditional grip, or maybe you like center-shafted, hosel-shafted, offset or straight, or over-length putters gripped near your breast bone or steadied in your bread basket, or maybe you prefer one with an insert on the face ... no matter, just get something you can be confident in, something that keeps your ball moving along the green ground consistently on line.
And get in to see your PGA professional for a few formal putting tips. That's when you'll roll yourself to smaller numbers on your card.
Story published Friday, September 2, 2011 ( Volume 6, Number 5 )