Of all the extraordinary behavior seen on golf courses the most bizarre has always been precipitated by the miseries of wayward putting. In those dark moments when the putter seems to vibrate with malevolence, like a twig that is divining calamity, even the Sneads and Hogans and Palmers will stoop (quite literally, in Snead's case) to outrageous remedies. They will try anything from bullying the ball toward the hole to praying and pleading or creeping up behind it in the hope of taking it by surprise. They will experiment wildly with grip and stance and stroke. But those who are profoundly afflicted are usually left cursing the game within a game—telling anyone who will listen that putting is no more genuinely related to golf than darts is to archery.
For all the tournament professionals who have suffered thus, who have dreamed the hopeless, beautiful dream of golf without the putter, a tiny but glorious torch was lit the other day on a remote English course a few miles from the old city of Norwich. There, for the first time in the history of the game, a player competing in a full-scale professional event holed his tee shots at two consecutive holes. Appropriately, the feat represented sweet, if unexpected, revenge for a man who had recently been savagely maltreated and all but disabled by his putter.
John Hudson, a 25-year-old struggling near the breadline to establish himself on the British and European circuits, had run into the worst trough of his short career because of a suddenly developed tendency to total collapse on the greens. After returning from encouraging sorties into Portugal, Italy and Spain in the late spring, he shot a first round of 73 in the Penfold- Bournemouth tournament and was in definite contention when he started the second round with birdie, birdie, bogey, birdie. Then he underwent the shattering experience of three-putting six greens in a row. The next time he swung that putter, Hudson's concern was force rather than accuracy. He did not bother much about where the club landed.
His disastrous beginning to the summer slid him out of the first 50 in the British Order of Merit and obliged him to prequalify for tournaments, something he had not been required to do in the previous two seasons. He found himself under constant strain and so even after an initial round of 72 in bad weather in the Martini International at Royal Norwich he went out for the second day with his mind clenched anxiously on the need to make the cut. He reckoned that he could not afford more than a 76 and by the time he had accumulated an ugly six at the 10th—to put himself four over par for the round—he was entitled to be pessimistic. His failings up to that point had been emphasized by the excellent golf being played by his partner on the round, Hugh Boyle, a large, dark Irishman of considerable but erratic skills.
Boyle had been well back after the first day of the Martini International but now, on his way to a course record of 66, he was producing birdies with euphoric monotony. Fortunately, Hudson is equipped to survive under such direct pressure. He has the unforced assurance often found in men who have a natural aptitude for several sports. Lithe rather than powerful, with only 154 pounds to set against his height of 6'1�", his vigor on the soccer field not only altered the line of his nose (he had it smashed three times) but brought him an offer to turn professional with his home town club in Reading, Berkshire.
"I suppose you'd have to class me as an attacking player in anything I do," he admits with a smile that splits his long, narrow face and shows white, uneven teeth. "Even as a goalkeeper in football I was always banging into somebody. On the golf course I want to play the most positive shot possible. I hate to be short. Somehow distances always look longer to me than to most other players and I'm determined to be up there. Overclubbing has cost me plenty of strokes in the past but I have a dread of being overcautious."
That dread did him a favor as he stood on the 11th tee at Royal Norwich, halfway through the historic round of June 11. The hole is a 195-yard par-3 with a big. undulating green that is well trapped on the right. It was a bright, blustery day and as the players looked straight down the fairway the wind was blowing at an angle from behind their left shoulders. With the pin set on the left of the green—and the wind doing its best to form a sinister alliance with those bunkers on the other side—it was essential to keep the ball from veering right and equally vital to ensure that it did not carry too far. "If you go through you run into all sorts of rubbish," Hudson confirms.
Having watched Boyle hit a good four-iron to the back of the green, Hudson opted for the same club. "Hugh is a little longer than I am, so I knew the four would do me. The way my score was going, I had to get close and I decided to forget any idea of going for the fat of the green. I played straight at the flag. The ball came off the club nicely, stayed on line and pitched on the green maybe seven or eight yards short of the hole. It took a couple of hops, then rolled out of sight. The pin was in a slight depression, so I didn't know the ball was in the cup until Hugh Jackson, who was playing in front, started waving his arms in the air and jumping about like a lunatic.
"My first thought was that I had pulled back a couple of shots on par. Now I was only two over and my chances of making the cut were a lot better. Hugh Boyle made his 3 and then we had to wait 20 minutes while the two pairs in front cleared the 12th tee. People ask me if that wait put a special strain on me but the truth is that the possibility of getting down in one at that hole was the farthest thing from my mind. Anyway, I'm not bad at keeping cool."
What happened next would have taxed the composure of an astronaut. The 12th at Royal Norwich measures 311 yards, relatively short for a par-4. But it offers anything but an easy first shot. Looking from the elevated tee, the player is immediately intimidated by the tips of trees that encroach from the right into the hollow in front of him. All he can see of the green is its front left corner. There are trees ranged threateningly along the left side of the fairway, too, and to compound the hazards the ground short of the green slopes substantially from right to left. A ball that lands on this incline will kick into the left-hand belt of trees, leaving the victim in need of help from the Forestry Commission.