Show me a really morose, down-at-the-mouth, give-up-the-game, leave-me-alone-at-the-clubhouse-bar golfer and I will show you a golfer who is having trouble with one of two clubs, the putter or the driver. We all have a way of surviving those weeks when our long irons aren't long or our sand blasts move lots of sand instead of the ball. But when our putting is sour or our driving is awful, then we are in honest, interminable, miserable trouble. Consequently, the putter and the driver are two clubs that merit some special attention, and that is what we are going to give them now. Then we will add a quick word about club selection for when you don't happen to be using the putter or the driver.
Weekend golfers, even those who spend a good deal of time practicing, seldom work on their putting. The touring pros are just the opposite, and that is a lesson to remember. They keep practicing all the time with their putters. If they are staying at a motel that has a putting green, you will see them out there by the hour. If you visit their rooms at night, you will probably find them hitting balls across the carpet.
What is more, the nonpro has a tendency to be lackadaisical about his two-foot and three-foot putts. He walks up to them quickly, thinking about something else, and misses far more of them than he should. He walks away shrugging his shoulders, as if it were fate. Then on the next tee he grits his teeth and half kills himself trying to hit his drive. Why does the pro concentrate harder on putting than anything else in golf? A little thinking will show you why. The pro knows that there are only three ways he can make a birdie. He can birdie the par-5s by hitting the ball so far off the tee, and then off the fairway, that he reaches the green in two strokes instead of the three that par allows him. He can birdie any hole by laying his approach shot, or his tee shot on the par-3s, so close to the pin that the putt is a mere formality. Or he can learn to sink middle-distance and longdistance putts and take one stroke on the green instead of the regulation two.
Of these three possibilities, the third is by far the most productive. After all, there are only four par-5 holes on most courses. No golfer yet born has been so accurate with his irons that he can hit many approach shots 100 to 200 yards and stop them within five feet of the pin. But in each round of golf there should be 18 glorious opportunities to drop the ball into the hole with your first putt.
To the player who wants to improve his score, putting is even more important than it is to the pro. The average golfer cannot reach a par-5 green in fewer than three strokes. He is going to miss the green entirely with many of his approach shots and his tee shots on the par-3s. If he wants to shoot par or anything close to it, he has got to sink those first putts. And if, instead of sinking his first putt he goes to the other unhappy extreme of missing some of his second putts, his score will go right up into orbit.
Keep a record of what happens on the greens in your next few rounds. Even for the best of putters, of course, the number of strokes on the green will vary considerably from round to round. It depends on how close you are getting to the pin with your approach shots and chips. But in general you can use the par figures as a guide. If you are averaging 36 putts a round, you are missing the best of all opportunities for improving your score. If you find you require more than 36, you have discovered one of the most damaging faults in your game.
But it is also the fault that can be most easily corrected—for of all the aspects of golf, putting is the most obviously and undeniably a matter of concentration and practice. Not everybody has the physical equipment to knock the ball 250 yards off the tee. Not everybody has the coordination required for precise accuracy with the approach irons. But everybody can learn to be a good putter.
The mechanical side of putting is hardly worth mentioning. You can hold the putter anyway you like. I personally use the reverse overlapping grip shown above, with all the fingers of my right hand on the club and the index finger of the left hand lying on top of them, pointing straight down the shaft. This is the most generally used of all putting grips.
You can use any kind of stance you want, too. Most golfers putt from a square stance, with the feet set evenly on the line they want the ball to take. This is the way I stand myself. But Jack Nicklaus gets good results from an extremely closed stance, with his right foot drawn well back from the line. Other golfers like to open the stance a little. Some golfers stand erect, and some like to crouch. My own most noticeable characteristic, I guess, is that I stand knock-kneed.