Among my circle of golfing friends I’m known as a pretty good putter. Two putts are the norm, one putts are frequent, and a three putt is as rare as a Bigfoot sighting. In our team scrambles, I’m the guy they want putting last. Given my relative lack of distance off the tee, putting is how I keep myself in a game.
That putting prowess has transferred very well to a wide variety of courses. I’ve putted well on bumpy minis, on well-kept public courses, at “high-end” resort championship courses, and at country clubs that pride themselves on the speed of their greens. I even managed to hold my own on the greens in the PGA Tour Pro-Am at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.
None of these, however, prepared me for what what I encountered at Indianwood on greens prepared for the USGA’s Senior Open (to be held at Indianwood July 12 – 15). To give the media a taste of the course, Indianwood cut the greens to an eleven, even while suggesting that by game time, they would be at eleven and a half.
I don’t think there’s any way for the average weekender to appreciate the speed of those greens. They were multiples faster than anything I’ve previously encountere. A two inch back and forward tap sent the ball rolling ten to twelve feet. And that’s if there was no slope. If the putt was downhill, I couldn’t find a way to stop it.
That kind of speed is absolutely diabolical.
Championship speed gnaws at your confidence. After watching a couple of three foot tap-ins run six feet past the hole, every putt becomes scary. Over eighteen holes, it wears you down mentally.
Technique becomes a victim of the speed. Knowing that ball is going to move run so far and so fast causes subconscious deceleration, sending balls off line. I think it also explains why some golfers freeze over a putt. You just know that when you pull the trigger, the ball is going to shoot past the hole.
Speed makes breaks more difficult to read. While I thought I could see the lines, I couldn’t get the ball to the break point at the correct velocity. Balls that should have turned gracefully into the hole instead hit the break too fast and stayed high. Shorter strokes and slower balls seemed the solution, but even hitting the break at the right speed didn’t compensate for the often unaccountable acceleration of the ball after the turn.
At such speeds, the effects of every swale are greatly exaggerated. Slight slopes become precipices.
On the positive side, the greens are so smooth that there was nothing to bounce them off line. Given the pockmarked surfaces I usually play, that was a pleasure.
By the end of the round, I think that I was beginning to understand how to play those greens. The speed makes it difficult, but not impossible, and with much practice could become manageable.
But given that I’m not likely to get a chance to practice on elevens in the future, I think I’ve figured out some compensating green strategies: 1) Never, ever be “above” the hole. Playing uphill is bad enough. 2) Err on the short side. With those speeds, short is likely to be long anyway and 3) Have faith.
That last is pretty important. In the end, you’ve got to believe that the putt is going in the hole and just let go.