September 3, 2009

My Usual Game: Disrespect the Easy Putt and Lose The Match

Yesterday: Dormie, with a three foot sidehill uphill putt to win the 17th hole and continue the semi-finals match of our Club Match Play Championship, I did the unthinkable: I half-heartedly tried to guide the ball to the cup and hit it so weakly that the break took over and let the ball slide by. Match over, handshakes, and the empty feeling of ultimately beating myself when it mattered the most.

That's golf. It takes a strong mind in order to win. Not only that, a singular constancy of purpose that might best be described as Zen on the green. And on that 17th green, I blinked, plain and simple.

I thought I knew better. So much for that theory!

Now then, I might have lost the next hole, or merely tied it and still lost the match. My opponent, Jerry, was more than capable of beating me, and I won't denigrate his well deserved win in our club's match play by claiming that I merely beat myself. That would be inaccurate and disrespectful. The guy's a solid golfer he played solid golf and took me to the limits of my capabilities and then beyond them. In other words, Jerry beat me, fair and square, and well done for him. Let me be 100% clear about that. And not only that, he is a gentleman and a guy that's fun to play with, not only for the golfing challenge, but also because he's damned pleasant to be around. I like to laugh and Jerry will make you laugh if you ever play 18 with him.

But it is the way that I lost in this tournament that eats at me, and it will serve as a lesson for me in the future. Instead of putting the deciding putt when my mind was ready, I took it for granted and gave an effort I don't think was my best. It was so easy that I made it impossibly hard because I wasn't committed. There's a fine line between thinking too much and thinking too little and in the case of a three footer that I would make 98 out of 100 times, I didn't think enough. Even little three footers deserve your respect, especially when the match is on the line. By doing that, I took away the possibility of continuing the match to the 18th, where anything could happen.

The experience gave me new respect for the old Bobby Jones aphorism about the toughest part of a golf course being the five inches between the ears. I may never have the magical powers of concentration of Ben Hogan or Tiger Woods, but next time I have a critical putt, you can bet I will remember this, and then clear out my head before the putter blade moves back a millimeter.

I also found another level of respect for the men and women who play tournament golf for a living. For them, the stakes are many magnitudes higher, with more people watching and way more people asking questions. I miss a putt in a club event and we go to the 19th hole for a cold beer. They miss a putt with a tournament on the line, especially a major, and their career can careen in a different direction. Not many folks remember who finished second in a major more than a few months later. No one remembers who finished second in the 2003 Quad Cities Open. But the folks who did certainly do. And they probably rue the key miss more than I do.

Ah well, even an old dog can learn a new lesson.

Finally, an open message: Jerry, best of luck in the Finals. I will be rooting for you and will buy you your first drink when you hoist the Champion's Trophy. Or not, either way. Hit 'em well, sir.


  1. "There's a fine line between thinking too much and thinking too little." That absolutely captures the escence of this game...and its often frustrating nuances. Keeping on that fine line for 18 holes is...OK impossible, trying to it throughout a four day tournament ... week after week?

    To me that life would be a monumental grind, particularly if - like most everyone who does it for a living - one rarely ever succeeded in winning.

    Obviously...fortunately... there are those who don't see it that way. They're somehow motivated to keep at it... and keep entertaining us with the drama of their many bitter defeats and the occasional glorious win.

  2. Bummer about the lapse in concentration. Those things can be such a thorn in the memory.

    It's always after the fact with me, too, but Tiger Woods' comment after winning his first Masters pops into my mind - when he said that he had to keep reminding himself to "finish the race" - it's not done until the last putt is in the hole.

    Get him next time !


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