We were on the 18th hole. It had been another great day on the golf course – perfect weather, fun foursome, some good moments for all of us. I had played pretty well.
I hit a good drive, but when it cleared the bunker on the right it ended up right next to a small tree, leaving me with a restricted swing under the branches. I did well to punch a 5-iron to the front of the green.
Though the pin was all the way back, my chip just missed the hole and stopped right in front of the fringe. The 12-foot putt was straight downhill and I babied it too much, leaving it three feet short. It was the classic downhill three-footer that we’ve all seen hundreds or thousands of times.
So I marked it and waited my turn. But then I started thinking – always dangerous at a time like that. I hadn’t missed a short putt all day. In fact, I had drained a couple of long ones. I was thirsty. We all were eager to get out of the sun.
When it was time for me to knock it in, I had all the wrong thoughts in my brain. Naturally, I yanked it out of the hole. I had turned a nice round into a closing double bogey with the worst finish of all – missing a short putt.
And I’ve been thinking about it all week.
But it brought up an interesting question:
If you’re going to miss a three-footer, would you rather it be on the first hole or the last hole?
I polled three people and, believe it or not, got three different answers.
The first one, without hesitation, said he’d rather it be on the last hole because a first-hole error might affect him the rest of the day. But then he changed his mind and said, no, that’s negative thinking – the first hole shouldn’t affect you that way.
The second one, without hesitation, chose the first hole because it would give him something to work on. His was the most positive approach: If you hit a bad shot or have a problem on the green, work on it both mentally and fundamentally to fix it.
The third one, again without hesitation, said he’d much prefer the last hole. “If I do it on the first hole,” he said, “I might do it on the second and the third and the fourth …”
Me? I’m torn. The fact that it has come to mind again and again since then tells me that the last hole is not the best time to do that if it has to happen.
But I’ve also seen too many rounds that I ruined early by missing a short putt. Try as I might to get mentally right and smooth out my stroke, it would haunt me the rest of the day – and many times would happen again.
However, as the week went on I came around to the first-hole way of thinking. If you do it on the first hole, at least you have time to do something about it. You can make some long putts to make up for it. You can knock in some short putts and rebuild your confidence.
And yet, even when I do something stupid like three-putt from 12 feet, I still love our great game. I could stand there and at least two-putt 19 times out of 20 or maybe even 99 times out of 100. But that’s what makes this so fascinating. It’s not easy. I don’t want it to be easy. And if I need to look foolish at times, so be it.
The next time I walk on a practice putting green, the first thing I’ll do is hit a bunch of three-footers – including some downhill three-footers. Then I’ll go out on the course feeling rejuvenated, feeling “fixed,” and we’ll see what happens.
I can’t guarantee good results. I could miss a three-footer anywhere between the first and the 18th. But I hope it isn’t the 18th again. I’d rather not spend another week thinking about it.