My Dear Matt,
Putting is a separate game within the game of golf. The score of par assumes that one will require two putts per hole. That is 36 putts in a par round of 72. Thus this game within a game is half of the game of golf!
If one can reduce the number of putts required to 30 (as good putters can easily do), then one might come close to par while having 6 errant shots elsewhere on the course. Though that is beyond the reach of average players of the game, a strong putting game can compensate for all manner of other sins.
Just the other evening, Dr. Putt was playing a few holes before dark with his old college roommate, who was passing through town that evening. Dr. Putt missed the first 7 greens, yet was only one over par for those holes. The key was that he chipped within 10 feet of the hole on all those holes and sunk 6 of the 7 putts -- a total of 8 putts for 7 holes. Sadly, darkness prevented him from completing the round.
In that little story is another kernel of insight into the game. Good chipping helps good putting. With a good short game, one can miss every fairway and every green and still shoot close to par. And the short game is within everyone's reach. It does not require the timing or flexibility or strength of a Tiger Woods.
Consider a 410 yard par four hole, unreachable for most weekend players. One can attempt to play it like Tiger, hitting a driver as hard as one can. If one finds the fairway and if one hits it sweet and if one hits a good 5 or 6 iron into the green, one is left with 2 putts for par. The odds of a double digit handicapper pulling off all those "ifs" are pretty low, maybe 1 in 10. However, if she or he hits a three wood off the tee about 200 yards and then hits another three wood or even a five wood, more than half the time the remaining work will be about a 10 to 25 yard chip shot and putt. Suppose this is what is left on 6 of 10 efforts. With practice one can get up and down in 2 shots on about half of these. Thus one can expect to score par about 3 of 10 times (versus 1 in 10). The liklihood of worse than bogie are low.
Of course, most players will not take this smart approach because much of the fun in the game is to try and hit it hard. Regardless, even after one takes a penalty stroke on that full bore errant drive and then misses the green, getting up and down in 2 strokes half the time rather then 3 or 4 strokes will reduce ones score by about 20 strokes. The math, dear Matt, is simple.
On the putter question, good putting requires a putter that fits your body (you need to be able to address the ball with your eyes over the line of the putt), helps you keep the blade square to the line of the putt (the grip needs to be properly mounted), and compensates for off center hits (heel and toe weighted or cavity backed putters do this best).
Hope that answers your questions. If you are just starting out, you might consider reading the book that sponsors this column and employing the aiming and alignment device, grip and putting system that comes with the book. This will place your eyes where they need to be and help you see the line and then putt along that line.
Best of luck, and please let Dr. Putt know how you are doing!
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