I am of course speaking generally now. There are special puts that require certain treatment peculiar to themselves, one in fifty perhaps. For all general use there is one put, the king-put, the put that rolls the ball up to the hole in just the same way as if one rolled it out of one's hand, without spin or cut or anything except an honest roll.
That is the difference between James Braid's old style of putting, when he was very bad, and his present, when he is very good. When he was using his old bad method he was wont to say, and write, that putters were born and not made. Now he uses himself as an illustration that a very bad putter who is using bad methods may, by discarding those methods, become a very good putter.
Vardon's case is possibly more interesting than Braid's. Many years ago there was not much to find fault with in Vardon's putting and he won several open championships. Then his putting went all to pieces and let him down again and again. People wrote long articles about it and showed how it was due to illness, and analyzed the psychology of it, and generally did all those funny things that journalists do to or about people who are much in the public eye.
I happened to see Vardon playing in a foursome at Baltusrol. His putting was sinful. I had heard how of late years in England he had been missing puts of eighteen inches and two feet, and in America according to the papers he was not much better. Here truly was a mystery.
After what I saw at Baltusrol I had no doubt whatever as to what was wrong with Vardon's putting. He was using a very shallow-faced putter and in addition to that was hitting or stabbing his puts as Braid did in the old, bad days when he never knew what was going to happen on a green.
Vardon's putter was so shallow in the face that he was actually able sometimes to hit the ball beneath the centre of its height, particularly when it happened to be perched up a bit. This meant that often he played his put with the top edge of the face of the club; in effect, a knife-edge on the pimples of the golf ball! Truly an ideal form of putter and putting! Time and again I saw his ball start for the hole with a little crooked jump which was all he had any right to expect.
I saw him miss the simplest of puts so close to the hole that he could have blown them in. His putter had got him down. People spoke with awe of the affection of his wrist. That was a secondary symptom. The root of the disorder was in his mind. He could not understand why his putter would not work for him. It was worse the nearer he got to the hole, for there the stroke had to be more delicate and this gave the uneven-ness of the pimples a good chance to play up with the edge of the putter. The further he was from the hole, and the harder he could hit, the better proportionately was his putting, for then the strength of the stroke kept the ball to its direction, but, near the hole, it was really pitiful to see a great player like him missing things a six-year-old boy would have made certain of, whereas one could see that Vardon had done the other thing.
I felt so sorry to see it that I immediately wrote an article, "Why Vardon Puts Badly," setting out what I have stated above, and saying that when Vardon came to realize the truth of what I said and gave up his shallow-faced putter, stopped stabbing his puts, and followed through properly, he would become, like James Braid, a great putter. This was published in The Golf Magazine, of New York.
I saw Mr. Ouimet's interesting account of how Vardon won his last open championship. He said he used an old-fashioned upright faced metal putter, and rusty at that, and that he had quite given up stabbing. Mr. Ouimet said that it was his splendid work on the greens that gave him his sixth open championship!
This is a wonderful lesson in putting, especially for those who are fond of hitting their puts. I have never known a consistently good putter who hit or tapped his puts. The trouble is that with this hitting method of putting one has to rely too much on what, for want of a better term, I call muscular memory. In the other method, where one swings gently and easily onto the ball with a good follow-through, one can regulate the length of one's put with considerable accuracy by the length of one's swing back. Moreover the start of a put is always truer with the swinging put than with the stabbed put. The latter has a great tendency to jump the first few inches as it starts on its way to the hole. This tendency does not exist in the other put which is superior in every way to the put that is hit.
A putter should not have much loft. Some people think that it should have none. Personally I think that a putter should have just so much loft as will enable one barely to see the face of the club when the ball is addressed. The objection to loft in a putter is along the same lines as the objection to the stabbed put. The tendency in putting with a lofted club is to put backspin on the ball and to start it with a jump. Neither of these things is desirable in putting. A putter would be better without any loft if the ball would start as freely as it does off a club with a little loft.
(1) The Frontal Address used by most professionals
Note the manner in which the Club is.
(2) Stance and. Address.
Note the position of the Feet and of the Eyes in relation to the Ball.
SALIENT POINTS IN PUTTING.
The fact is nearly all players hit a slightly upward blow in putting. It is probably very slight but the tendency is there nevertheless. A perfectly vertical face would not give quite such a good start to the ball as does the slight loft recommended. The reason for this is that the club grips the ball and the grass also has a hold on it. These holds endure until something slips. Naturally it is the ball that slips on the face of the club. Then it starts to roll. With a lofted club of the kind indicated the ball is started towards the hole without any conflict such as takes place when a club with a vertical face is used.