Friday, May 22, 2020


Who am I to tell golfers how to golf? I don't even golf myself. I'm a lay person. A casual fan. I don't even follow the pros. I read a little Wodehouse and have the occasional opportunity to watch some recreational golf. That's about it.

Yes, you heard me correctly, I'm an occasional fan of recreational golf. The rarest of sports fans. You will want to take what I have to say on the subject with a grain of salt. I occupy a different golf universe than the rest of the world.

Take, for instance, the putt.

If you have ever watched professional golf, and I have seen a little bit here and there in the past, you will have formed a loose view on the eight foot putt. You might think of it as something that should be made, but isn't always. And though I was thinking we might agree to put it at a 75 percent shot, I looked it up:

Pros make it about half the time.

Because golf is an aspirational game I imagine most recreational golfers think the odds for them aren't much worse. Oh, pressed they might admit they don't hit that putt very often, but certainly it's very makeable.

They are wrong.

I am a fan of recreational golf. But even more importantly I am a dispassionate observer. I am even a little bit of a scholar of recreational golf.

I have done a loose study.

The eight foot putt is a less than one percent shot.

That's right. I'm not kidding. It is a less than one percent shot. I have now watched upwards of 200 eight foot shots and have only seen one person make it. And even then it might have been closer to seven feet. The golfer seemed pleased, but not as pleased as he should have been.

You might be wondering, where do I watch this recreational golf? Am I making an argument that recreational golfers are far more terrible than we commonly think they are? There is no way everyone sucks that bad at golf. I mean everyone sucks somewhat, but that bad?

No, you are right. Many of the golfers I see hit beautiful drive after beautiful drive. I have regularly watched gorgeous approach shots, dancing off a hill to a play in sweet and beautiful position. And while not common, it is no miracle either to see a recreational golfer send a ball out of a sand trap to within a few feet of the hole. 

The miracle is them converting the putt.

Why are recreational golfers, who can be, at least occasionally, excellent in all other aspects of the game, so universally poor at putting?

I have a theory. I like to write about it a few times every season.

The gimme.

After a recreational golfer inevitably misses their putt, they almost always take a gimme. They take a gimme on 98% success rate shots, and they take a gimme on 8% success rate shots.

I am not here today to speak to the ethics of this. Or the honesty. Or the integrity. Or the Gentlemanliness of it. I've done with that.

I'm here to talk about practice and experience.

Most of these recreational golfers I watch barely know what it's like to hit a golf ball into the hole in real play on a golf course. They have almost no experience of it. And so when they need to do it, they can't. They lack that strange, particular muscle memory, that true faith in the future that can be leaned into in a time of stress. They don't know what it feels like. Golf is a game of feel.

The recreational golfer has decided the short putt is too mundane and simple to acknowledge, too easy, and so, like all important things unacknowledged and unaddressed, it quietly owns them. And they fight their little cold war, the short putt and the golfer. The short putt owns reality, and the golfer gets the score.

At this point in my essay I have a beautiful summing up statement that wisely brings this altogether and reveals something profound about the human condition.

But it would be too simple for me so let's just call it done.

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