Friday, 10 February 2017

Bobby Jones on Putting: The Dying Ball

As a kid, Bobby Jones saw putting as being no mystery. He would simply walk up to the ball and knock it in the hole; or at least try to do so. As he learned that three and four footers could be missed, he began to struggle on the greens, imitating the putting styles of great putters and thinking about mechanics rather than just thinking about knocking the ball in the hole.

In his book Down the Fairway, Bobby went on to explain the one thing he learned to once again become a good putter. Bobby wrote:

    "So I worked around and imitated some other fine putters, with indifferent results, and finally, after years of suffering and tournament wrecks--I took 40 putts in one round of the national open at Columbia--I finally arrived at the conclusion which obtains as these lines are written: that the best system for me is to stroke the ball with as smooth a swing as I can manage, and try always to guage an approach putt, or any putt except the short holing-out efforts, to reach the hole with a dying ball.
     Stewart Maiden had more than once urged this plan. 'When the ball dies at the hole,' said Stewart, 'there are four doors; the ball can go in the front, the back, or at either side, wherever it touches the rim. But a ball that comes up to the hole with speed on it must hit the front door fairly in the middle; there are no side doors, and no Sunday entrance, for the putt that arrives with speed.'
     This is especially true of keen greens. On a slow green you may take more liberties with hard hitting. But on the fast greens on which most championships are played--well, there's always that specter of the three-putt green. I had three of them, that last round at St Anne's, in the British open championship of 1926. You don't forget those things, I can tell you.
     Now, here's the way I look at it. Too frequently, it seems to me, the famous old maxim of 'Never up, never in,' is made the excuse for banging the ball hard at the hole; and the player, seeing it run past three or four or half a dozen feet, consoles himself with the idea that at least he gave it a chance. And yet it isn't so much of a chance. Of course we never know but that the ball which is on line and stops short would have holed out. But we do know that the ball that ran past the hole did not hole out. That's another way of looking at it. And a putt that is struck too hard has only one way into the cup--through the middle of the front door, and then the backstop must be functioning.
     Also, there is the matter of the second putt, not one precisely to be despised.
     There is nothing--I speak from experience--in a round of either match or medal competition that bears down with quite the pressure of having continually to hole out putts of three and four feet; the kind left by overly enthusiastic approaches. For my part, I have holed more long putts when trying to reach the hole with a dying ball than by 'gobbling' or hitting hard. And if the dying ball touches the rim, it usually drops. And if it doesn't touch the rim--well, you can usually cover the hole and the ball with a hat, which makes your next putt simple and keeps down strain."