67: The Clutch Putt

67: The Clutch Putt

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tales of Golf and Sport

The Clutch Putt

I have a tip that can take five strokes off anyone’s golf game: it’s called an eraser.

~Arnold Palmer

Pressure is part of golf. It shows up when a golfer fails to make a shot he would normally make because he tries too hard. A non-golfer doesn’t understand this when he watches Freddie Couples nonchalantly knock in a fifteen-foot putt.

All golfers have experienced pressure, but what is perhaps more difficult to comprehend is the amount of additional pressure that is created when golf is played as a team sport, rather than an individual one. The fear of letting your teammates down is undoubtedly the big factor.

Whether golfers are playing in the Ryder Cup or the Border League, they have to contend with this extra pressure. In these parts, the Border League is a group of golf and country clubs along the New York State-Eastern Ontario border that play an annual team competition: eight-man teams from each club—total score to count—medal play.

One such competition was being played at the Prescott Golf Club, a nice course overlooking the St. Lawrence River in Ontario. I was a member of the Cornwall, Ontario, team. Most observers were saying if anybody was going to beat the home club, it would probably be us. As the day progressed, this analysis proved correct—Prescott and Cornwall well ahead of the other clubs. Seven of our eight players were in now, waiting and relaxing at the nineteenth hole, as golfers sometimes do, and our eighth man was now on the eighteenth tee. Our eighth man was Reggie Evans, an 8-handicapper, a school principal by profession, a keen but occasionally erratic golfer. We, of course, were tired, but anxious about the outcome. Somebody said, “Kenny, it’s your turn—go over to the scoreboard and see how we stand.” A quick trip over to the board revealed that all teams now had seven players finished and the scores were listed by teams. The scorekeeper, whoever he was, hadn’t given us any subtotals, so I checked them out, did some quick mental additions and went back to where my teammates were sitting.

“Hey fellas, we got this thing in the bag—we are eleven shots up on Prescott and Reggie was one up on his man after nine; surely he can’t blow a twelve-shot lead on the back nine.”

The elation and excitement were rising; somebody suggested, “Hey, let’s go over to the edge of the green and cheer Reggie in.”

“Good idea.”

By this time, Reggie had played his second shot onto the green—pin high about twenty feet to the right of the flag.

“Let’s have some fun,” I suggested. “Let’s tell Reggie that he has to sink that putt.”

“Wait,” cautioned Alex. “Before you do that, you had better check out his lead—you wouldn’t want to blow us out of first place.”

“Okay.”

We joined the small greenside gallery as the players approached the green. The Prescott player chipped up for what looked like a tap-in par, and the other two players had played onto the green when Reg came around to where I had strategically positioned myself.

“How are you doing, Reg?” I asked.

“Pretty good, Kenny, two putts here and I break 80.”

“How is the Prescott player doing?”

“Well, let me see now, he’ll get his par here and he will be one stroke ahead of me. How is the team doing?”

The stage was set and set perfectly.

“Look, Reg, listen now, we have a one-stroke lead over Prescott—you’ve got to sink that putt.”

“A one-stroke lead?” Reg muttered, as he digested the situation. His facial muscles tightened. “That’s not an easy putt.”

“Give it a go, Reg. Knock it in and we win, but hell, don’t three putt it.”

Reg was on the green now, putter in hand, crouched behind the ball, studying the roll of the green.

“Don’t be short, Reggie,” chirped Joe from greenside.

“Shush, Joe, don’t distract him,” whispered Alex. But Reg wasn’t going to be distracted; he was in full concentration like I have never seen him before. Things were working perfectly. He looked over the line from both directions, studied the surface to make sure there were no impediments, and now he was back behind the ball again.

My teammates were all watching intently, some with expectant grins on their faces. We were expecting anything, but inwardly hoping he might sink this putt.

Reggie took a couple of practice swings with his putter to ensure a smooth stroke and now took his position over the ball—pause—here it comes—the ball jumped off the putter face—bobbled a bit—lots of speed—a bit to the right of the cup—now a slowing down and breaking towards the cup.

“It’s in!—way to go, Reggie—you did it! Boy!”

Loud cheers and high fives from the gang and then a sudden shushed silence to allow the others to putt out; then handshakes all around and back to the lounge to celebrate our victory.

When Reg sank into his chair, his face reflected both relief and excitement from his achievement. About this time, Joe decided to let the cat out of the bag. “Reggie, you really didn’t have to sink the putt. We won by eleven strokes—we were just putting you on.”

“Aw, you guys,” groaned Reg, “you don’t know the pressure you put on me out there.”

“We just wanted to see how good you really are,” I ventured. The chatter continued, only to be interrupted by the public address system: “Ladies and gentlemen, here are the results of today’s tournament.

“In first place, Cornwall, with a total of...”

“Yeaaaa.”

“In second place, one stroke behind, Prescott with a total of...”

“One stroke behind?”

“One stroke behind. Hey, Kenny, where did you learn to add?” exclaimed Alex.

“Aw come on, fellas,” I said, “I was only telling Reggie the truth out there. You didn’t expect me to lie to him, did you?”

~Ken Robertson
Chicken Soup for the Golfer’s Soul

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