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Point Counterpoint

Should golfers hole out on every hole?


For those of us who played basketball and tennis in high

school (or at least sat on the bench in hoops), there was little question about the sweetest sounds in sports. Nothing compared to the gentle, invigorat- ing “snap!” of a basketball cleanly swishing through the net, without even grazing the rim. Or, for pure anticipation, the distinctive “whoooosh!” upon opening a new can of tennis balls always fi lled the air with optimism. Those shiny new balls wouldn’t dare sail beyond the baseline. Now, given the wisdom

and creaky knees of middle age, another sound clearly belongs on the list: The oh-so-satisfying “plunk!” of a golf ball tumbling into the hole. That’s the funda- mental point of the game, plopping the ball in its underground home— golf ’s symphonic equivalent of a jump shot tickling the twine. And it’s infi nitely

more melodic than your buddy muttering, “Uh, that’s good.”

Just imagine the concept

of a conceded putt stretch- ing to these other sports. When a player scampers downcourt in a pickup bas- ketball game, his chasing-

20 / NCGA.ORG / FALL 2011

in-vain opponents never holler, “Don’t worry about making the layup. We’ll count it.” Would even casual ten-

nis players give an opponent the point before he or she hits the ball into the court, no matter how wide open it might be at the time? Absolutely not. Yet in golf, for some

reason, it’s standard practice to make grand assumptions. We’ve all taken “gimme putts” (guilty as charged) because it’s part of the rec- reational game, as accepted as forward tees and not walking in another player’s line. Conventional think- ing suggests it’s common courtesy, not cheating. The only real argument

in favor of “gimmes” is ac- celerating pace of play. Slow play is a scourge, no doubt, but holing out short putts doesn’t require prolonged contemplation—speaking from experience, the time spent studying a short putt has no correlation to your chances of making it. So get up there and putt

the ball into the back of the cup already. An online expedition

found some eloquent points to strengthen my case. One clever defi nition of a gimme emerged: “A gentleman’s agreement between two golfers who can’t putt.” That’s the heart of the

matter, really. Players don’t take gimme putts because they want to speed up their rounds. They take them because they fear the results if they play by the rules and keep putting until the ball drops. (Rule 3.2 explicitly mandates stroke-play dis- qualifi cation “if a competi- tor fails to hole out.”) As one post on golfwrx.

com stated, explaining why golfers cheerily accept gimme putts, “It’s because you might miss them, and you HAVE missed them in the past, and it’s irritating and humiliating to lip out a short little putt after moving the ball 400 yards in two swings.” Doug Sanders knows the

irritation and humiliation. Sanders, a fl amboyantly attired, 20-time winner on the PGA Tour, led the 1970 British Open by one shot as he came to the 72nd hole at St. Andrews. Sanders lingered over his 3-foot putt to win, missed it and lost in a playoff to Jack Nicklaus the next day. Then there’s Scott Hoch

(yes, as in “choke”). Hoch memorably missed an even shorter putt to win the 1989 Masters on the fi rst playoff hole; eventually los- ing to Nick Faldo. Stewart Cink blew an 18-inch putt at the 2001 U.S. Open, which became more pain- ful when Retief Goosen

later missed a 2-footer to win—meaning Cink could have joined the playoff if he hadn’t gagged. Hale Irwin might have

offered the most compel- ling illustration in the third round of the 1983 British Open. Irwin had only a few inches left for par, so he tried to backhand the ball into the cup—but stubbed his club and missed com- pletely. He dutifully counted the stroke, took bogey and eventually fi nished one measly stroke behind win- ner Tom Watson. The point here: Even

the world’s fi nest players miss so-called gimmes. No putt is a deadlock cer- tainty to fi nd the bottom of the hole.

This whole debate veers

down another path in match play, where the psychology of conceding putts—or not conceding them—often affects the outcome. On a basic level, it’s sheer folly. The outcome should hinge on who puts the ball in the hole in the fewest strokes possible, plain and simple. My 11-year-old son, an

increasingly avid golfer, un- derstands. Sometimes, in an effort to keep him from get- ting discouraged—and pick up the pace—I’ll reluctantly say, “That’s good,” when he has a 2- or 3-footer left. He usually responds with an icy glare, insists he needs to practice and putts anyway. Maybe he just wants to

hear the “plunk!” on every hole. Smart kid.

Ron Kroichick covers

golf for the San Francisco Chronicle.

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