Hi, my name is Ben Goren, and I am being driven insane by practicing putting.
These are the darkest days of the Chicago winter. There is sunlight for precisely six minutes every day, and it’s far too cold to venture outside for anything other than firewood, thermal underwear, and gloves made out of whatever they make NASA spacesuits out of.
In other times, I would be brave enough to hop into a car, drive an hour out of my way, and go to what amounts to an oversized inflatable tent to hit golf balls in an indoor range. I don’t even know if that tent is open this year, but I’m not chomping at the bit to get out there.
For me, a city-bound golfer stuck in the tundra, there’s only one option for me, and I took the plunge. I went to Amazon and paid entirely too much, and I am now the proud owner of an indoor putting green.
It sits at the foot of my bed and spans the width of my room. I bought it with the intention of hitting 100 putts a day.
I am not coming close to that mark.
Practicing putting in the best of times, on a sunny early summer day on a manicured green with your favorite song playing in your headphones, is not especially enjoyable, and I’ve never really been able to figure out why. It’s the first thing most golfers ever practice, whether as a toddler slapping balls with a cut down putter while your parents practice or on a putt-putt course with a plastic pink putter and a glowing blue ball. It’s also the easiest to gamify. Smacking six irons on a range to one flag in the distance should get boring. On a practice green, you have any number of ways to set up your drill to get your ball into the hole in any kind of manner.
That’s a good recipe!
And yet, putting practice is interminable. Part of it is that I have neglected to ever strengthen my core and so after about 3 minutes in a putting posture my back is crying uncle. Part of it is that putting practice makes you feel inadequate. When you’re grinding out your swing and you hit a bad shot, it’s okay. You don’t hit the green with every 6 iron you hit in a round. If you’re anywhere near average, you probably miss the green more often than you hit it. So what’s a wayward shot on the range?
While practicing putting, every miss feels like a chore. When you make yourself hit 25 straight 3-footers and you miss on putt 12? Agony. When you drop balls across the green and you three-putt one you dropped 35-feet away? Cue the expletives. Every smart golf teacher will tell you that the way you drop your score is by getting better with the only club you hit on every hole, the flat stick. It should then be obvious that the biggest difference between you and a pro would be on the greens. But it’s so hard to keep that in mind as you miss your third straight flat ten-footer. Hitting an unmoving ball into a comfortably sized hole from not that far away should not be that hard. And yet, it is brutal.
Take away all the accoutrements of an outside practice green and replace it with some synthetic turf in your bedroom, and it gets so much worse. There is only one put to practice: a 7-footer with a ball of right to left break (apparently my floor isn’t quite level). You hit the putt, you retrieve the ball, and you repeat ad nauseam until you can’t take it anymore. I have tried everything. I have tried shrinking the hole to try and make successful putts more rewarding. I have tried setting goals to up the pressure. I have tried practicing with one hand, different grips, whatever you can imagine, and it is still an absolute grind.
But for the first time in my life, I can feel my stroke getting better. There’s a degree of sensory deprivation chamber-ness to this kind of practice. It’s mindless, yes, but with nothing separating the process and the results, your only option is to get better. When you miss a short putt on a practice green at your favorite course, you can blame wind or a bump. On a carpet, the only thing to blame is you. Every kink in your stroke is magnified. The frustration with how boring the exercise is becomes frustration with your crooked motion.
Practice, then, has a rhythm to it. You pick up the putter to get a few strokes in between meetings, you miss a putt left, and you yell at yourself for forgetting that you tend to get too handsy in your follow through. You hit 13 more putts, all of them with proper technique. You get bored. An hour and a half later, you repeat the process. It’s enough to drive you batty. But the thought of draining 17-foot birdie putts is intoxicating. Maybe even intoxicating enough to continue turning your brain to mush.
Ben Goren is a contributing writer for Stick and Hack and has been addicted to the game of golf for the past 15 years and isn’t interested in finding a cure. He’s also offering one kidney in exchange for a Cypress Point tee time (serious inquiries only).
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