The art of the perfect putt

I have had the opportunity to play golf a couple of times in the last few weeks. Although I was able to hit the ball fairly well, I just couldn’t get the ball into the hole. I didn’t putt poorly… the ball just didn’t go in! Does that sound like any of your rounds lately?

 Larry Norland, director of golf, Green Haven Golf Course, Anoka
Larry Norland, director of golf, Green Haven Golf Course, Anoka

Putting would seem to be the easiest part of the game. I mean kids can do it at the mini-golf course for goodness sakes and I always putted great when I was younger. Then somewhere along the line someone, although I am sure they meant well, convinced me that putting was hard and I needed to work at it to make sure I was a good putter. Ever since I started to “work” at putting I have never putted like I did when I was a kid.

So in my search to find the secret I was listening to an interview with Brad Faxon, widely regarded as one of the best putters in the world. He was asked to sum up in one sentence why he was such a good putter. After thinking for a moment or two, he answered, “I putt well because I don’t care if it goes in!” Wow, I guess that would sum up where I go wrong. I care too much! Although, can you really care too much?

Also, I read a study where they used a putting machine that made the exact same stroke every single time, I am sure similar to what I do, but maybe a bit more precise. They took the machine out to a country club with some of the best greens in the country and set the machine up about 12 feet from the hole. They made adjustments until it made a putt.

Now common sense would tell you that if it makes one putt and it makes the same exact stroke every time shouldn’t it make every putt? Well from 12 feet on perfect greens it made 82 out of 100. Now 82 percent from 12 feet doesn’t seem too bad, but it makes the exact same stroke every time.

After 100 golfers had played during the day they came back to the same exact spot and the machine only made 48 out of 100. What that tells us is that there are so many things beyond your control after the ball leaves the putter head that even a perfect machine can’t make more than 50 percent from 12 feet.

So maybe we shouldn’t care so much if it goes in. We should care what the stroke was like, if we got it on the line we chose, the speed we chose, and then the ball just might go in more often. A great friend who was a fantastic putter once told me that if you just lob the putt up somewhere near the hole, it’s amazing how often it finds the hole.

Oh, and by the way after the machine missed 52 out of 100 a great putter who was a golf professional by the name of Ben C. made 62 out of 100 from that same spot. Maybe the secret is it’s more art than science!

Larry Norland is the director of golf at Green Haven Golf Course in Anoka.