Putting is the foundation of the game of golf. It is extremely simple and easy to learn. I could take an old lady, who could not by any possibility ever make even a fair golfer, and convert her into a good putter, yet there seems to be a general conspiracy on the part of the most eminent golfers to make out that one cannot be really good on the green unless one was born with a special putter in one's hand.
This, as I hope to show, is pure moonshine. Putting is probably the simplest operation in the simplest game that is played, for golf is a simple game. The demand of golf is not for excessive brains. It is for extreme mechanical accuracy, accompanied preferably by a considerable amount of what I have heard called "Saxon phlegm"; but, I have no doubt that, provided the accuracy is there, the American variety of the other qualification will be found sufficient for all purposes.
Putting is not practised as it should be. If one would only realize it the put is beyond all question the master stroke in the game. By master stroke I mean here, not the stroke calling for the greatest skill in execution, but the most important stroke.
I must give an illustration of this that I have given again and again, but it is so striking that I am always prepared to risk some one telling me that it is not entirely fresh. We may take 72 as a good score for any course. If we allow two puts per green we see that exactly half the strokes are played by the putter, leaving the other half to be distributed amongst the other clubs in the bag. As a matter of fact, more than half the strokes in a first class tournament are played on and in the immediate vicinity of the green. Players would do well to get this idea firmly into their minds. It might make them give the short game generally some portion of the time they lavish on the drive. Not that the drive is unworthy of all the time one can spare for it, but there is such a thing as proportion, and excessive devotion to the drive must mean a badly balanced game. Moreover it should always be remembered that the most awkward man to defeat is the one who knows his mashie and his putter.
The ideal action for a put is that of the pendulum of a clock, presuming of course that the line to the hole is parallel to the face of the clock. It is impossible to give any better notion of the ideal put than this.
In practical golf one does not often see it, for a variety of reasons which need not be enumerated here.
The first point of importance that the pendulum teaches us is that it has one bearing on which it swings. Our put will swing in the best possible way if we give it one bearing. To do this, or to get as near to it as is practicable without using one hand, means using one of the overlapping grips. I think it is beyond question that one of these grips, probably the one which allows the left forefinger to overlap the right little finger, is the best.
Either this or the Vardon overlapping grip will be found the best for putting. Those who are unaccustomed to them find them a little peculiar at first, but when one has felt the smooth flowing action of putting with the hands brought together in this manner, one is not very likely to return to the old two-handed method.
There is probably more variety in style in putting than there is in any other branch of the game. This to a very great extent arises from the fact that there is much ignorance of the mechanics of putting. For instance there is for each player one best distance at which to stand from the ball.
Many players quite ignore this. One should address one's put so that a plumb-line from the bridge of one's nose would hang in a line through the center of the ball. This it seems to me is the cardinal rule. If one does this the lines from the eye to the ball, from the eye to the hole and from the ball to the hole are all in the one vertical plane.
If one addresses the ball too far in or too far out it means that one has three different lines to look down; with a ball too far in there is one line from the eye inwards at the ball, another inwards from the eye and at a different slant to the hole and then the line of run to the hole which really does not "connect" or "run into" one's eye at all, so that one is really putting over a line other than that along which one is looking.
There are so many putters that I hesitate to say anything about any particular putter. This I may say however and that is, avoid like a pestilence the shallow-faced putter. They are a delusion and a snare for about ninety-five per cent. of golfers and probably half a delusion for quite eighty per cent. of the remainder. They are a most dangerous and unreliable club, as the lesson of Braid and Vardon's putting will show, although Braid, so far as I know, never used the very shallow face.
The first time I saw Braid putting was at Walton-on-Heatli in England. He was trying a Vaile putter for me as I wanted his opinion of it. To my surprise he came down on the ball from the back and finished on the turf an inch or two in front of where it had been.
In those days I was little known in the golf world and Braid had already several open championships to his credit. Without a moment's hesitation I said, "Do you always put like that?" "Yes," replied Braid in his slow methodical style, "and it's the best way too."
By this time I had remembered those championships so I said no more, but I thought a good deal. Braid at that time was considered one of the most unreliable putters amongst the professional players. I was certain that his method of putting was bad, but I just "bottled it up" and kept my opinion for future use.
The next time I saw Braid putting was a year or so afterward in a match at Mid Surrey. I came on the match suddenly, just as Braid came onto the green. I had left another game in which I had no further interest. Braid's ball was about twenty feet from the hole. He studied the lie with his usual thoroughness, then settled himself down to his ball and to my surprise ran it down with a beautiful easy pendulum-like swing, playing the only proper stroke for a put.