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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Harry Vardon on the Simple Putt... and Why It's Not So Simple

Harry Vardon's first golf book, The Complete Golfer, was published in 1905 and is in the public domain here in the US. It's a mixture of instruction, memoir and opinion that takes some time to work through. But Vardon set records that still stand today and, in his time, was known as the Greyhound because once he got in the lead he was rarely caught.

This somewhat long quote is from Chapter XIII, Simple Putting, and I haven't even quoted the entire paragraph! But Vardon makes a point here that few players ever seem to realize, and I think it's worth pointing it out.
Putting in golf is a game within another game. 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. 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. Do we not from time to time see beginners who have been on the links but a single month, or even less than that, laying their long putts as dead as anybody could wish almost every time, and getting an amazing percentage of them into the tin itself? Often enough they seem to do these things simply because, as we should say, they know nothing at all about putting, which is perhaps another way of saying that their minds are never embarrassed by an oppressive knowledge of all the difficulties which the ball will meet with in its passage from the club to the hole, and of the necessity of taking steps to counteract them all. They are not afraid of the hole. The fact is that putting is to a far greater extent than most of us suspect purely a matter of confidence. When a man feels that he can putt he putts, and when he has a doubt about it he almost invariably makes a poor show upon the greens. Do I not know to my cost what it is to feel that I cannot putt, and on those occasions to miss the most absurdly little ones that ever wait to be popped into the hole without a moment's thought or hesitation? It is surely the strangest of the many strange things in golf, that the old player, hero of many senior medal days, victor in matches over a hundred links, will at times, when the fortunes of an important game depend upon his action, miss a little putt that his ten-year-old daughter would get down nine times out of ten. She, dear little thing, does not yet know the terrors of the short putt. Sometimes it is the most nerve-breaking thing to be found on the hundred acres of a golf course. The heart that does not quail when a yawning bunker lies far ahead of the tee just at the distance of a good drive, beats in trouble when there are but thirty inches of smooth even turf to be run over before the play of the hole is ended.
Let me call your attention to a couple of sentences in the middle of this quote, where Vardon mentions inexperienced players who make putts that the "more expert" among us don't. Of those inexperienced players he simply says:
They are not afraid of the hole. The fact is that putting is to a far greater extent than most of us suspect purely a matter of confidence.
They are not afraid of the hole. As much as we hate to admit it, this is the simple truth. The shorter the putt, the more afraid we become.

We are expected to make the short putts, but we know that they won't all go in... and we're afraid that this putt is one of them. We may be afraid that we won't score as we expect, or that we won't score as others expect, or that some other unnamed expectation won't be met, but it all comes down to FEAR.

If we want to become better putters, a major stumbling block is overcoming this fear. But how do you do that?

Vardon has some interesting ideas on how one becomes a better putter later in that chapter, and I'll post some of them soon. But for now I will just mention that your PERSPECTIVE on the game is a major weapon in this battle.

To put it simply, if you are "afraid of the hole," something about the game means too much to you -- that is, you don't see it as a game but as a part of your self-worth. If you want to putt better, THAT HAS TO CHANGE. You have to find a way to put golf back in its place; you have to draw your self-image from something more dependable than golf.

It's as simple -- and as difficult -- as that. But what did you expect? It's golf, after all!

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