LESSONS FROM “THE HAIG” – One of Golf’s Greatest Putters
In my many discussions with Seve Ballesteros, in preparation for the book we collaborated on, Natural Golf – on the road at golf tournaments (talking in the clubhouse or in his hotel room), chatting at his home in Pedrena, Spain, and when playing golf together and conversing at the La Manga resort course in Alicante, Spain – I could understand why the talented Spaniard was a streaky putter; some days, and sometimes during all four days of a major championship, Seve sunk every important putt in route to winning, while other times in majors he couldn’t, as they say, “buy a putt.”
The reasons: Seve believed putting depended a lot on luck. He was baffled by the fact that, on some days, you could sink every putt on the practice putting green then miss every putt on the golf course, and vice versa.
Seve often agreed with Gene Sarazen, that the hole should be bigger.
Seve also, often, talked about putting expert, Dave Pelz, proving, using a robot that a perfect putt would often miss due to imperfections in the putting green.
And, Seve employed an inside-square-inside stroke, even on short and medium-length putts, rather than the straight-back straight-through stroke I prefer, as does Dave Pelz. Stan Utley prefers the inside-square-inside stroke, even on short putts.
The reason I am now against Seve, and against Utley, too, is because I agree with Jack Nicklaus and Dave Pelz: The closer you can keep the putter to the target line on the backstroke, the better your chances of returning the putter’s face squarely to the ball at impact.
Well, this stroke-solution is certainly a good thing, but you need to have more assets to be a great putter, like Walter Hagen, as I found out when conducting research for my new book, Enjoy Golf!
What I discovered helps explain why The Haig is in an honorable third place, when it comes to winning the most major championships. Jack Nicklaus is first with 18, Tiger second, with 15, and Hagen in third place, with 11. My point: You cannot win 11 majors and be anything less than a fine putter.
The following Walter Hagen story should tell you some things you need to know, to help you sink more putts on the golf course.
When it came to the department of putting, Walter Hagen was the best of his day, and is one of the best of all time; certainly at holing pressure-putts in route to winning a major championship.
A typical example of Hagen’s putting prowess, under pressure, came on the final hole of the 1924 British Open (The Open Championship), contested over England’s Royal Liverpool course, also known as Hoylake.
After hitting a good drive and needing par-four to win by one shot over Ernest Whitcombe, Walter hit an iron shot over the green; the ball sitting down in thick fringe grass.
Hagen chipped long out of the bad lie, leaving himself a nine-foot pressure putt for the win.
The crowd, expecting Hagen to examine the line to the hole from all angles, and take time to prepare for the putt, were surprised, rather stunned, when the masterful putter nonchalantly stepped into his setup then quickly stroked the putt. The ball fell into the center of the cup, giving Hagen, also a master of gamesmanship, the victory.
Aside from putting with a very low-lofted putter that gives the ball a purer roll, and employing a straight-back straight-through stroke, Hagen credited his good putting to a cool head, carefree attitude, and relaxation; assets of the mind and body he relied on under pressure, and called on by seeing himself cruising along on a country road in his Rolls Royce convertible, pressure-free.
In a must-make course-situation on the greens, take a couple of deep breaths to relax and visualize a past putt you sunk, just like the one you now face, to boost your confidence.
Alternatively, imagine yourself on a beach, enjoying the sun’s rays, with not a care in the world, unless, of course, you own a convertible Rolls.