Johannesburg – Craig Stadler, known in the golf world as ‘The Walrus’ on account of his substantial frame and long, thick drooping moustache, was once asked why he was using a new putter.
“Because the old one didn’t float too well,” he snapped back. Yes, the American might have been good enough to win 29 times as a professional but – like just about anyone (Bobby Locke being a rare exception) who has played the game – Stadler went through spells when his putting went to the dogs. And that’s why, in this instance, his old putter ended up in the drink.
Many reckon our own Bobby Locke, who won four British Opens and more than 80 tournaments around the world, was the greatest putter in the history of the game. He tried to keep putting simple, throughout his career never changing his grip or where he placed his hands on the club. And he positioned his thumbs down the centre of the shaft. He set up with a closed stance and swung the putter into the ball from well inside the target line and, remarkably, went through the entire 1948 season without three-putting a single green in tournament play.
One of his contemporaries, American Lloyd Mangrum, said this of dapper Bobby in his plus-fours: “That blankety-blank Locke was able to hole a putt over 60 feet of peanut brittle!”
Locke maintained the art of putting lay in the tips of the fingers, with the club gripped lightly. He also said that if you have by nature a delicate touch, you are lucky because it helps a great deal. That’s all very well for those of us who have natural touch, although Lee Trevino reckoned there is so such thing. “Touch is something you create by hitting millions of golf balls,” insisted wisecracking Trevino who, as an aside, once said “the older I get, the better I used to be”.
Back to putting, and golf-mad comedian Bob Hope travelled a great deal in his 100 years on this earth, and he said there wasn’t a country in the world that he hadn’t three-whacked in.
Putting constitutes pretty much half the game of golf. And a putt of two feet counts just as much as a 300-yard drive. So if you want to play good golf, you really need to putt well.
Which brings me to Ernie Els, who – as has been well-documented – credits visualisation coach Dr Sherylle Calder for helping him put his putting woes behind him on his way to winning this year’s British Open. Former South African hockey captain Dr Calder has developed an online software visual training programme that helps to improve processing skills and enhance eye-hand, foot and body coordination. And, like a teenager playing games, Els spent many hours in front of his laptop working through her exercises en route to his famous Royal Lytham victory.
“You hear horror stories in golf about people breaking down and not being able to do simple things,” Els says. “Before working with Sherylle my mind was so cluttered with stuff that when standing over a 20-foot putt I was worrying about the two-footer that I’m going to have to make if I miss. And you can’t play golf like that. I was sick.”
Well, he’s cured. Come to think of it, my putting’s not too healthy right now. Maybe I too need the good doctor. Maybe you do.