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Friday, May 18, 2018

A Couple More Putting Thoughts from Harry Vardon

Yesterday I posted a long quote from Harry Vardon about putting and, while I intend to explore some of the other things he wrote about putting soon, there are a couple of other things in that long quote that are worth looking at as well. I didn't cover them yesterday because the quote was so long!

Harry VardonOne of those things has to do with practice, and this might surprise you. You see, Vardon wasn't a big fan of putting practice:
While I am not prepared to endorse the opinion that is commonly expressed, that a golfer is born and not made, I am convinced that no amount of teaching will make a golfer hole out long putts with any frequency, nor will it even make him at all certain of getting the short ones down. But it will certainly put him in the right way of hitting the ball, which after all will be a considerable gain.
"I am convinced that NO AMOUNT of teaching will make a golfer hole out long putts with any frequency, nor will it even make him at all certain of getting the short ones down." Vardon does write about the things he believes WILL help you putt better at a later point in the chapter this quote came from, and we'll get to that in another post.

But Vardon does seem to contradict himself, doesn't he? He starts by expressing his disbelief in that old "golfers are born, not made" saying, yet he doesn't believe a lot of practice will help you get better either -- although he says learning proper technique won't hurt.

As you'll see -- in that future post that won't be long in coming -- Vardon is a big believer that every player putts best when they putt in their own way, the way that feels most natural to them. Putting is different from the other strokes in golf, where certain techniques are necessary in order to get the ball to fly a specified distance or bounce in a specified way. If you're putting properly, the ball isn't going to fly or bounce! It takes no special skill to simply hit the ball so it rolls on the ground, and that's all a putt should do.

So I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how simple Vardon's putting advice is when I post it. It's more about how to fix problems that prevent you from hitting the ball smoothly rather than learning techniques about how to hit the ball.

The other thing I want to point out from yesterday's quote concerns experience. Bear in mind that when Vardon wrote the book this quote came from, he had already won five majors:
Experience counts for very much, and it will convert a man who was originally a bad putter into one who will generally hold his own on the greens, or even be superior to the majority of his fellows. Even experience, however, counts for less in putting than in any other department of the game, and there are many days in every player's life when he realises only too sadly that it seems to count for nothing at all.
Again, we're looking at some apparent doubletalk. Experience can make you a better putter... but it won't help as much as you might hope. It's right after this part of the quote that he starts talking about new players who run putts in from everywhere while you, the experienced player, can't seem to find the hole at all. He also says that fear -- which I focused on in yesterday's post -- is a major reason that experience doesn't always help.

Why doesn't experience help us all the time when we putt?

The simple fact is that we don't control as much when we putt as we would like to believe. Blades of grass are as individual as fingerprints. Here, take a look at a single grass plant in this diagram from the Lawn Institute:

Basic illustration of a grass plant

That's a pretty complex organism you're looking at there! Add the variables of grass type, moisture, length, growth direction (they grow toward the sun, you know -- that's called grain), the fact that no piece of ground is perfectly smooth, etc., and you'll soon realize that you can't predict the exact path of the ball with any certainty. All the experience in the world won't make you able to predict the path with the accuracy you'd like to expect.

Now perhaps you can understand why Vardon says that fear is a bigger problem than technique. A confident stroke is more likely to track along the path you choose than a hesitant stroke, as grain has the most effect on your ball as it loses speed. And the inexperienced player, who doesn't realize how many variables can affect his putt, simply steps up and hits the ball firmly -- often too firmly -- and as a result the ball tracks along much better and gives him a better chance that the ball will drop.

Assuming the new player made a decent stroke on a reasonable line, that is. As Vardon says, nothing is certain in putting.

So hopefully the extended quote from Vardon in yesterday's post makes a bit more sense now. And when I put up the next post containing his advice -- probably early next week -- this may help you get the most good from it.

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