Cover Story: Why You Can't PuttSeptember 21, 2010

I'm Cursed

Among many cop-outs, here's one jinx I can't shake

When it comes to my lousy putting, I've given up on excuses and just started in with the blame. There's plenty to go around. Elevation, weather, shoddy greenkeepers? Blameworthy. The nattering of birds, the audible proximity of the highway, the glaring sun? Works for me. I blame my inner ear. I had an ear infection once; for a while I lost the simplest assumptions of balance. It was worst when I looked straight down at my feet. Vertigo. The list goes on: My failing eyes, my bad back, my lack of practice time. I've got entire string theories of blame related to the reliable unreliability of my putting. Like any son, I've blamed my father, who, in order to amplify drama on family vacations, threw miniature-golf matches to me. But most of all, I blame Seve. He is the sire and source of my troubles. Seve Ballesteros, the great champion of my putting woes. I curse his name every time I walk the green.

In the late '90s, I got to play three holes with Ballesteros on a press junket. On the first hole, nervous and a little undone by his presence, I somehow managed to jab a level four-footer into the center of the cup. Then I rolled a 75-footer over the rise of a green, watched as it tracked past a glinting mosaic of ball markers, and shook my head when it slowed and noodged itself into the jar. The blackest of blind luck, I knew, a veritable solar eclipse in the midst of the sweeping epoch of ignorance that is my putting. I thought I'd overcooked it, cried out when it left the blade. Seve cheered.

After I accidentally lagged to within a foot on the third hole, we all shook hands, and Seve rotated through to the next group of writers. Before he did, he stuck his wretched Castilian finger into my chest plate and declared to the world that I was a good putter. Everyone heard it. I waved it off, and said, "No, no, no." I tried to explain, but Seve smiled and looked me straight in the eye. "Yes, yes, yes," he said, and with that, he turned away.

I stood there, listening to the snickers of my partners, who knew better. I could feel the jinx falling on me like a spring rain. I wanted to clarify. I wanted to call his name. But I didn't. Seve! Seve! Sire and source of all my woe! This was in the desert, in Morocco, more than 10 years ago. He receded into the distance, surrounded -- as always -- by a gaggle of beautiful women, becoming my very own mirage.

TIP FROM DR. BOB ROTELLA: Tell everyone you're putting great. People think it's socially cool to complain about their terrible putting. Show a little pride, and don't do it.