We all have shots that challenge us more than most.
Getting drives to go in the right direction.
The fairway bunker … or maybe any sand shot.
Chip shots from tight lies.
But I’ll bet if you asked golfers what stroke they fear the most, the one that bothers them more than any other, two out of three would say it’s the 3-foot putt.
There’s just something about it.
Perfect example: Your drive was pulled a little, and the best you could do from there was get your ball under a low-hanging tree limb to about 50 yards short of the green.
It’s a tough little shot with the pin right on the front edge. You don’t have much green to work with, and anything short is going to roll back down the hill.
Fortunately, you nip it just right off the turf and get it on a nice trajectory toward the pin. It lands on the front edge and skitters to 3 feet below the hole.
Easy par, right? It’s going to break just a little right, so aim for the left side of the cup and drill it.
But then the gremlins – they always scream loudest on those short putts – start getting in your head.
What if it breaks a little more than you thought?
What if it doesn’t break at all?
What if it actually goes a little left?
What if you repeat that bad stroke you made a few holes ago?
And then you start doubting your grip, your setup, your stroke, everything.
Standing over the ball, you’re a jumble of terrible thoughts as you just try to coax it in.
At some point, you’ve got to pull the trigger. Your foursome doesn’t want to wait forever. Just do it. Of course it will go in.
And then you absolutely and totally pull it, yank it, jab it and jerk it left of the cup.
It never had a chance.
Your cart mate, who had gone over to the side of the green to talk to a friend on an adjoining hole and wasn’t paying attention, casually says, “Nice par,” as the two of you walk off the green.
And you have to inform him, sadly, that you actually didn’t make par. He is shocked. Maybe he shouldn’t be.
This happened to me yesterday. I still can’t believe it. The third shot was perfect. The putt marked the second time in the round that I missed a short putt by jerking it left.
Two strokes thrown away. Two strokes wasted.
The day had started with such promise when I made a nice 7-footer on the first hole. I had decided to go back to the left-hand-low grip, the one I’d used for most of the last decade, because my putting in my round the day before was so bad.
It was desperation, but our great game requires that sort of constant compensation. Some days, you’ll try anything.
After that second horrible jab, however, I had no choice. I felt obligated to switch back to the conventional putting grip I’ve been using this year.
I took a lesson a few months ago, and they told me that my left-hand-low looked awkward. They showed me, with a machine, how much better my stroke was if I went back to conventional. They were right, and it had worked pretty well for a few months.
I realized that I was foolish to abandon it so quickly, after one bad round of putting. Thankfully, it felt good again yesterday when I went back to it, and I even made a nice 10-footer for birdie a couple of holes later and a couple of other quality strokes as well.
But the terror still was there. Miss a 3-footer, and anything you did well on the hole is forgotten. All you can remember is the missed putt.
I’ve never conquered that inner turmoil, and I never will.
I just have to accept that it’s part of the challenge – the challenge that we just can’t resist.
Even when it tortures us.