This year, let’s turn new golfers into devoted golfers

New year. New outlook. New ways to express our love for our great game.

How about sharing it with those who haven’t yet learned the joys of The Perfect Four Hours?

It could be one of your children. It could be a niece or a nephew. It could be your neighbor or friend. It even could be someone you just met.

Get them out there. Show them why it’s so much fun. Laugh often. Yes, very often.

But that brings to mind another question:

What’s the first thing you would show them?

Me, I would take them to the practice putting green. Show them the part of the game that’s the easiest and the hardest at the same time.

Stroking a putt is not nearly as difficult as striping a drive down the middle or striking a perfect 3-iron. It’s not as hard as hitting the green with a precise pitching wedge or landing a chip shot in the right spot.

Someone who has never picked up a golf club can make contact with the putter. They might even make a putt or three.

And yet the putter can be the most fiendish club in the bag, capable of playing mind games with any experienced golfer, no matter how mentally strong they think they are. It is the most important club. Might as well deal with it right away.

But I would go one step further.

Anyone learning the game, no matter how old they are, wants to feel as if they know what they’re doing – and look as if they know what they’re doing. No wants to look foolish out there. It’s what keeps a lot of people from giving golf a shot.

So I have an even simpler starting point. It’s something they can learn before they hit a single putt.

They need to learn how to mark their ball.

Silly? Not at all.

It is something you do on just about every hole, and it shows some knowledge. Always have a coin or marker with you. As soon as your ball gets on the putting surface, you mark it no matter where it is and don’t put your ball back down until it’s your turn to putt.

There are good reasons for doing this. You first want to make sure the ball is clean, with no chips or gouges. You’re also concerned with making sure it isn’t a distraction to other players. It doesn’t matter if it’s in their line. Anywhere in their sight could be a problem.

But there also are techniques to learn.

No. 1 is to mark it correctly, the way the pros do. Marker goes behind the ball, not in front of it or to the side. The ball is between the marker and the hole.

Then you show them how to move your ball if it’s directly in another player’s line … how you first mark your ball, then place your putter down next to the marker, line it up with a tree or some other anchored object and move it one or two putter heads, moving it back to its original spot when it’s your turn.

You also show them the importance of not walking in someone’s line. Put two balls down and show them how they should manage their steps.

This is especially valuable information for children. It’s like going to school for them. They will appreciate the knowledge. They will show their friends. And they will never forget it.

Then it’s time to do some actual putting. You could start them on short putts, just to get them used to the stroke. The natural inclination is to want to sink a long one, but they’re better off learning how to read the green and coax in a 3-footer.

And then you could close your first lesson with a putting contest. But have them mark their ball, walking around your line to do so. It’s a lot better than a chalkboard.

These ideas might sound out of order to some. What about getting on the range and hitting some shots? What about learning the grip and the swing?

Those can come later, after a few putting sessions. Build their confidence around the green, both with the putter and the wedge. Have them try to hit the ball for distance too soon and their zeal might go sideways.

So now the next step is to find someone to teach. Surely you know someone – quite possibly someone who hesitates to learn. It even could be someone who tried golf once and swore (that being the operative word) they’d never do it again.

You can change that! Share the love AND the knowledge. For both of you, it might be the perfect way to get the new year off to a great start.

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