When You’re Putting Great

We were treated to a spectacular display of putting by Webb Simpson and Chez Reavie in the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship at the TPC Boston on Monday.

Using the belly putter, Simpson made an 11-footer for par on 14, an 8-footer for par on 15, and a 28-footer for birdie on 18 to ultimately get into a playoff with Reavie.

For his part, Reavie went on a tear on the back nine. He made a 9-footer for birdie on 11, a 25-footer for birdie on 13, a 14-footer for birdie on 14 and a 33-footer for birdie on 16. But that was the end of his run. He needed an 11-footer for the win on 18, but he couldn’t make it. And he needed a 25-footer on the second playoff hole but couldn’t make that one either.

In the playoff, Simpson made a 15-footer on the first playoff hole for birdie and a 9-footer for birdie and the win on the second. Counting the 18th in regulation, three clutch birdies in a row.

These two guys looked like machines; they were making it from everywhere. It looked so easy. And the truth is, it was.

When you are putting great you don’t even think of missing. As your gaze goes down the line of the putt to the hole, you don’t even notice that your hands have perfectly melded to the putter grip. It’s seamless, one hand is indistinguishable from the other and there are no gaps. You can lightly feel the head of the putter.

Your attention is locked on the hole. Even from a distance, you can sometimes see the blades of grass on the edge of the hole. Your attention is so acute, the flat white paint inside the hole looks like neon, but without all the flash.

Standing on the green is like being in a complete, self-evident universe. You see all the local green topography—the breaks and uphills and downhills—but you also see the extended typography around the green—the moguls and swales—and you have heightened situational awareness of distant typography—mountains, ponds, Rae’s Creek, Indio—that have any effect on the lay of the green. You know right where all of them are without even thinking about it.

You can see the dark green of into-the-grain portions of the line and the lime green of the down-grain portions. And your mind automatically translates the measure of the stroke to account for where each reveals itself on the line. It knows just how hard you have to stroke it to get the putt to hold its line up the mound and into the grain, just how fast the putt has to be moving at the crest so that when it falls down the lime green on the other side, it rolls on the perfect plum line to the hole. You see all of this in your mind’s eye before you even stroke the putt.

When you are putting great it’s as if time disappears. Everything unfolds at the perfect pace. You don’t feel like you’re hurrying and you don’t feel like you are too slow. And because time has disappeared, you have more room in your consciousness to take everything in that matters in the moment.

Once you see the line and feel the speed, you can move confidently to the ball. If you move before you have both of them, you can never putt confidently.

As you move to the ball, your soft gaze never leaves the line. It never drops out anything important about the line. You see it all.

As you take your stance, you take the ball in for no other reason than to know where to put the putter down for your practice strokes. Your gaze immediately goes back to the line to hold that total knowing in your mind. You make one or two practice strokes to connect the abstraction of the read to the kinesthetics of the stroke.

When you’re putting great, you can move the putter behind the ball while holding the vision of the putt in your mind. That helps with the initial alignment of the putter. But your eyes go back to the line quickly. A first glance to confirm the alignment…and a second…and maybe a third.

And then a quiet crescendo begins to build in your consciousness. It’s the timer in all of us that tells us when it’s time to begin the stroke. We don’t have any real sense of it; it’s just this building sensation that peaks with the exhalation of our last breath…and then we putt.

When you’re putting great, you patiently allow the putter to accelerate through the ball and your eyes slowly rotate up the line to watch the ball match up with the vision. Nothing else moves—you don’t come out of your stance—until the ball stops. That visual feedback is critical to honing your stroke as the round plays itself out. Most of that will have been done on the practice putting green, but you have to nurture it on the course and particularly in the whirl of the cauldron.

When you’re putting great, your makes are no big deal because you expected them. When you’re deep inside it, you might even be completely emotionless because there is no emotion in the facts of the putt; only in their consequences.

When you’re putting great, your misses don’t matter because you know that you will sometimes.

And when you’re putting great, you can’t wait to get to the next green…because you know you’re putting great.

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