The Most Dreaded Shot in Golf


by Marc Friedlander




I've been playing most of my life. And not very skillfully I'll admit, but there is one thing I'm very particular about, and that is, how one finishes a hole. A lot of the time, my playing partner or a member of the foursome - or pretty much everyone I've played with - they get the ball close with their chip or first (or second, etc.) putt - let's say to about a foot or two - and then they halfheartedly tap it in the direction of the hole, scoring it as made, whether or not it actually goes in. Then they pick it up and walk off. They concede themselves anything near the hole. And this goes for some very good players, down to Sunday hackers.

I like to hole out. There are rare exceptions but that's my rule - in fact THE rule, even when I'm playing alone. In match play, it's understandable to concede a short putt, but not in stroke play, and not to yourself in any case. And it's understandable to pick up in misery and frustration. I've certainly gotten to the point of picking up (or swatting away) a golf ball, having been unable to stroke it into the hole, despite a multitude of my best efforts. Then the score is ruined in any case, and it has become a practice round. But, not when the putt is meaningful and at the same time, miss-able. Never, then.

I've been irritated when people I'm playing with don't hold themselves to this standard, and I have to card a bogey (which I earned), against their par or bogey (which they didn't). Nobody would dare concede themselves a birdie putt. Not if they want to live to play another hole.

The short putt - the easiest shot of all shots - is ironically, also the most dreaded. The proof of that is that so many players are willing to spoil their game, just to avoid it. And that is because although it looks like a pure formality, it's really not that easy. Not at all. The slightest misjudgement is deadly. Add a little break, or ball mark, or wind, and it becomes - well, frightening. What if you fail to sink it - after playing the hole so beautifully to this point? That would negate the beauty of what you've so far created. Where anybody could play a less than perfect fairway wood, everyone expects a half decent player to hole a short putt. So what does it mean if it happens to miss? Meanwhile everyone is looking on - and waiting for you to do something. Anything.

All these thoughts swirl around the mind of the golfer who is facing a putt of a certain hard to define distance, but somewhere between a tap-in and a knee-knocker. The player makes a show of it but doesn't exactly and sincerely putt the ball - no, not to really line it up either and take a stroke, but rather, he backhands it, or sidewinds it, and when it doesn't even touch the hole they've already counted it in because they or anyone could make it - if they took the time to really try but come on, that was in, everyone should know they couldn't miss it - even though they did.

I've seen this played out thousands of times. The object of the game of golf is to hit the ball into the hole. Ask any 5 year old.