What makes 3-footers hard? It’s not a short story

Recent events on the PGA Tour have reminded me of something I’ve felt for as long as I’ve played our great game.

The shot I most fear is not the 3-iron over the water.

It isn’t the punch shot through the trees.

It’s not the fairway bunker shot to the green.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, strikes more fear into me than the 3-foot putt. And I’ll bet that a lot of you out there, if you’re being honest, would say the same thing.

The pressure on the 3-footer is overwhelming.

Miss it, and it ruins the hole for you, one way or another. It might even ruin your day.

It turns an eagle into a highly disappointing birdie, which might seem impossible but is true.

It turns an easy birdie into a bitter par.

It turns a par into a bogey that’s criminal for its neglect.

It turns a bogey into the worst kind of double bogey.

And if it results in anything worse, you’re wondering why your playing partners didn’t just give it to you out of sympathy.

My putting actually has improved as I’ve gotten older, which I know is unusual. The only way I can explain it is that it certainly couldn’t get any worse.

When I think back to courses I’ve played and rounds I remember best, what usually sticks out is the missed 3-footers.

I know, I know … we’re supposed to have amnesia about those things. But they leave a mark.

Watching Scottie Scheffler struggle to close out the Masters or Jordan Spieth win at Hilton Head despite a surprisingly balky putter got me thinking once more about those short putts that can seem so much longer.

Scheffler’s four-putt on the 18th green at Augusta was the classic “That’s what I would have done!” moment.

It didn’t cost him the tournament, fortunately, as he played hockey instead of golf for two extra putts. And he’s so cool, he didn’t even look rattled when he missed badly, not once but twice.

But it gave me shivers. It was THAT painful to watch – and he still won by three shots.

I still can’t believe how poorly Spieth has been putting lately. He looks totally confused, and that buttery stroke looks much more like a jab. Yet he won the tournament because his ball-striking was so good – and he made the big putt on No. 18 in the final round when he needed it.

Oh, and don’t forget that Patrick Cantlay badly missed what for him is almost a gimme on No. 18 that same day, leaving him in the playoff with Spieth rather than earning a one-stroke victory. It wasn’t a 3-footer, but it was sooooo makeable.

It got so bad for me over the years, I began to keep track of missed short putts in my stats. I define a short putt as anything inside of 5 feet or so that I think I should make 99% of the time. Miss it, and I feel as if I gave away a shot.

It’s not as if I’m unaware of my short-putt weakness.

The first thing I do when I practice putting is try to make a bunch of 3-footers in a row.

I know how important it is to accelerate through the putt and confidently ram it home.

I will never forget the club pro at the course where I caddied as a teenager. He was the boldest putter I’ve ever seen.

He didn’t just give it a good rap; he practically bent the turf on the back side of the cup, he hit it so hard. He was doing everything he could to take the break out of the short putt, and he almost always succeeded.

I wish I had the confidence (and guts) to do that, but I just don’t have that kind of nerve. I often find myself trying to just cozy it in there. In other words, I’m trying not to miss it rather than trying to make it – and I’m trying to make sure the next putt, if there is one, is a tap-in.

That’s dreadfully negative thinking. I need to stop it. But that’s what all those missed 3-footers over the years can do to your mind.

And yet I play on, realizing that everyone has a shot that bedevils them. Mine just happens to be a stroke that should be almost routine.

Oh well. We all endure some sort of torture out there in certain moments. You might freeze up on that shot over the water … or through the trees … or out of the fairway bunker.

I consider those kinda fun.

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