December 14, 2008

A Lesson That Sinks In

Ron—a member of our enemy club and my opponent this year in both rounds of our annual local championship of the world—is one of the best putters I've ever played against. Yet he employs a technique that looks nothing like anything you've seen on TV. He takes his stance with an odd, semicircular sashay, like an oldster dancing at a wedding reception; stands with his feet so close to the ball that you worry he's about to kick it; holds his putter nearly vertical, tipped on its toe, with his hands almost pressed against his belt buckle; takes a short back-stroke in which he fans the blade open and chases the ball down the line with an exaggerated follow-through. If you observed only his technique, and not his results, you'd happily agree to play him for the former value of your house. But when he's on, he makes almost everything, and he's the only golfer I know who seems genuinely surprised and disappointed when he lips out a 30-footer.

‘ wonder why all golfers don't take putting lessons all the time.'

The fact that Ron can putt beautifully with an idiosyn-cratic stroke might suggest that technique in putting makes no difference, but I think the opposite might be true. His stroke looks peculiar, but it never varies, and it has very few moving parts. My putting technique, by contrast, changes from day to day—except for the flaws, which have always seemed immutable.

Until, that is, I took a putting lesson from Fran, my pro. This was something I'd been meaning to do for a long time but had never gotten around to, and the results were so satisfying that I wonder why all golfers don't take putting lessons all the time. (Actually, I know why: laziness and cheapness, plus fear of the unknown.) A putting stroke is simple enough to change with conscious effort, and putting is so important that even a small improvement can lower scores. Fran showed me that I was aiming to the right and pull-ing my putts, my tendency with all my shots. (Swing flaws tend to run through the bag.) He improved my setup by cutting an inch and a half from the shaft of my putter, to get my arms more extended, and he suggested that I try aiming not with the little aiming line on the top of my putterhead but with the entire leading edge of the blade, perpendicular to the line. This, for some reason, made a big difference, and, although I still have plenty of room for improvement, I was able to beat Ron. Luckily for me, Ron had two bad rounds in a row. (Maybe he should go see Fran, too.)