THE DEADLY STROKE

March 16, 1975

It seems so simple. The ball is here, the hole over there, and all you have to do is roll it in. When he was young, Arnold Palmer thought all his putts should drop, but Sam Snead could have told him there would come a day.... Now Palmer can tell Johnny Miller. On the following pages Artist Don Moss takes a surrealistic look at a gallery of champions on the green as they attempt the most important—and what can certainly be the most scary—shot in golf, the putt.

As his watchful caddie racks up the score, Miller drills home another putt on the kind of surface he likes best—one that is table slick.

Early last year Lee Trevino moaned that his stroke had become unhinged, but by August he had it back together again and won the PGA Championship.

Once there was no better putter than Arnold Palmer, but lately he has been like a man in a nightmare trying to tap a size-eight ball into a size-five cup.

When an aging Sam Snead realized his nerves could no longer bear the strain of the conventional style, he faced up to it and grew years younger.

He has been chided for the amount of time he hovers over the ball, but no one has made as many big putts in big tournaments as Jack Nicklaus.

THAT OLD SINKING FEELING

There is no question that golf would be a more fascinating and altogether more bearable game if it were stated in the rules that once the golfer reached the green he could call upon a Rumanian soccer-style placekicker to handle the rest.

The problem with putting is that it has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with golf and hasn't for decades. Putting only came about with the invention of the smooth, cultured green, which must have been in the pre-cursing era of the game. Good greens have done nothing but give the golfer a split personality.

First, he is the violent, physical athlete who tries to slash enormous divots out of the fairways, as if he is hoping to bring in another East Texas oil field, or as Dave Marr once said, as if he's preparing Ewell Gibbons' lunch. But when on the green, the golfer becomes something else. He is a solemn, timid, prayerful soul who wants only to peck tenderly at the ball, to dance quaintly behind it or perhaps trot along beside it reading a few pages of Keats, fearing that if he doesn't do any of this, the ball will glide up, over, down, around and so far away from the cup he will have to place an order with room service to get it back.

For almost as many years as golfers have been trying to putt, there have been professional golfers trying to tell golfers how to putt. In their wisdom, they have told everybody to be bold—"Never up, never in," some Scot once said, smoldering in his tweeds—and they have told everybody to let the putt "die at the hole," pointing out that a ball that rolls past the cup is more than likely not going in, and they have told everybody to do something in between, such as "lag." Old Laurie McLag said that one day at Leith.

Further, the professionals have told us to use rear-shafted putters, center-shafted putters, mallet-head putters, blade putters and putters that plink a tune at the strike of the ball—We'll Meet Again. They have told us to stand with our feet close together, with our feet spread apart, with our weight on the left foot, with the weight balanced and sometimes to just "get comfortable" and putt. They have told us to putt like a pendulum, to putt as if a door is closing, as if a nail is being driven, as if we see an "imaginary line," as if we have "feel." They have told us just about everything except that you can't putt in a coffin unless you sit up straight.

For all of this, it has been proved by the simple playing of the game that no one—pro or sausage hitter—can putt well consistently. Jack Nicklaus will stare at a short one that missed and claim it hit "nothing but air." Arnold Palmer will be unable to get his knees unlocked in time for dinner. Gary Player will bar God from South Africa for a week. Lee Trevino will say, "I putt so bad I'm gonna eat a can of Alpo." And Jimmy Demaret will remember that "Tommy Bolt's putter has spent more time in the air than Lindbergh."

Fortunately, there is now hope for everyone. A spiral notebook recently was found in the hollowed-out portion of an old sycamore tree that borders a par-5 hole on a municipal course in Fort Worth, Texas. Also in the tree were the rusted head of a cashed-in putter and a suicide note from the putter itself, saying it was sorry for all of the grief it had caused the owner. The notebook has been sent to this office by the man who found it. He has asked that his name be withheld in the fear that someone will think he still plays golf.

In any case, the notebook contains 10 Basic Rules for Happy Putting, and they are now to be shared.

1. Don't attach any cork or foam rubber to the shaft of your putter unless you want it to float.

2. Always drag your cleats when walking on bent grass greens.

3. Any sidehill putt over 25 feet in length requires either whistling or humming.

4. Backhand anything four feet long or under and pretend you heard somebody say, "It's good."

5. Never squat down in tight pants.

6. Before tapping in a gimme birdie, light a cigarette, comb your hair and twirl the putter like a baton.

7. Never waste time squinting at a 3-footer that breaks to the right. Nothing will help.

8. If somebody says a putt breaks toward a mountain or an ocean, find out why you aren't there instead of on the golf course.

9. At least twice a round while marking the ball, try stumbling and falling forward.

10. There are many ways to punish a putter, such as burning, rusting and drowning, but the most torturous is to drag it along on pavement out of the door of a fast-moving vehicle.

There will be those golfers whom none of the above will help. In that event, they will be left with the time-preserved words of Ben Hogan. Hogan once was asked by a long-suffering player what he should do about his wretched putting. He had tried every stance, grip, club and attitude. But nothing was dropping. Said Hogan, "Have you considered hitting it closer to the hole?"

FIVE ILLUSTRATIONSDON MOSS

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)