Counting putts instead of shots – a golf god offense?

19th-Hole-Dreamstime-300x277Here’s a little yarn about what happened when a single-digit golfer brought his hoping-for-bogeys lady to his home course for the first time and proposed a three-putt challenge.

WHEN ROCK TOLD ME he’d take me out to lunch AND dinner if I three-putted his home course fewer than seven times in my first round there, I wanted to say, “Sucker!”

After all, every woman golfer with trouble reaching greens in regulation has learned to cherish and master the “putt-saver,” that approach that jusssssttttt misses the green and can now be rolled up close to the hole for a likely one-putt or an easy two-putt. I knew all I had to do was miss most of the greens and I’d have no dishes to wash.

But I had heard so much about the wicked greens at this South Suburban place, a busy muni in Centennial, Colorado. Just last weekend, he had brought home tales of tournament pins at “The Burb” so dastardly, rounds lasted six hours and players walked off the course.

Besides, he had been such a gentleman exploring my California over months of rounds at one unfamiliar course after another, I suppressed my smirk and managed to smile and nod agreeably, noting that I had nothing to lose.

WE TEED OFF ON WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON WITH HIS FRIEND TOM AND A PLEASANT YOUNG MAN NAMED DREW. ON THE FIRST GREEN EVERYONE BECAME AWARE OF OUR THREE-PUTT BET.

burbThat’s because my third shot on the 320-yard par 4 rolled off the back of the green. The fellows thought they were helping me by urging my orange ball to sit down. I, meanwhile, smiled when it didn’t listen to them. I could pull out my putter, but with the ball off the green I wasn’t officially putting yet. I rolled the ball about 15 feet past the hole, but I got to watch Tom’s putt on my line.

And then I rolled my putt in and beamed. Rock three-putted.

On the second hole, a 477-yard par 5, I couldn’t get to the green in 3, didn’t get all that close to the pin in 4, and then had to make a 4-footer for a two-putt. On the third, a 351-yard par 4, I found myself on the green in 3 but way above the hole. When I almost made the first putt and had a tap-in for the two-putt, I wiped my brow and said, “Three down.”

The fourth hole at Suburban is an easily reachable par 3 that was playing into a stiff wind that afternoon. Only Drew hit the green. I cheered as my shot came up a little short, and Rock finally said, perhaps somewhat irritably, “Just play golf, will ya.”

OH, GOLF.

I forgot to mention how much I was enjoying walking the rolling 18-hole layout, how I was admiring the well-kept fairways, greens and even rough, and how I appreciated the placement of the forward tees. I haven’t noted yet that while pursuing the goal of fewer than seven three-putts, I had started off with nothing worse than a bogey, and I am a 24 at South Suburban. Thinking about putts instead of score seemed to be working pretty well for both my bet and my bottom line.

BUT, DID THE GOLF GODS (and GODDESSES) LIKE THIS STRATEGY? IN RETROSPECT, I THINK THEY WATCHED IN DISDAIN, JUST WAITING TO SEND A LITTLE KARMIC MESSAGE MY WAY.

On No. 4, a hole the tournament players had been grateful to four-putt, my chip winked at the hole and ran up the hill behind it, so I had a tricky unstoppable putt back down that rolled 8 feet below the hole. Nervously I holed it for another two-putt, followed by a one-putt for par on No. 5 and a two-putt for bogey on 6.

Rock may have remarked that he didn’t know I loved going out to lunch and dinner so much.

I two-putted again on 7, but this time I made double-bogey and went to the tee at 8 a little discouraged.

No. 8 is only 302 yards long, and I hit a solid drive that left me about 120 yards to the center of the green. But the pin was in the front, so I chose a club that would get me there and probably off the back. Only, this time, my approach didn’t reach the back fringe. It stayed on the putting surface and I was eyeballing a downhill putt of too many feet to count. The amazing thing was, I didn’t get my birdie putt back down to the hole. I had heard so much about the speed of the greens at South Suburban, yet my long downhill putt came up short by about 15 feet. My next putt went past the hole for my FIRST THREE-PUTT and my third I swatted at in disgust so it, too, missed.

Fortunately, four-putts counted no worse than three putts.

But on 9, the story was the same: I couldn’t get my first putt from above the hole to past the hole, and I THREE-PUTTED AGAIN. “Ugh, I’m giving these greens too much respect,” I muttered.

Still, at the turn, I had four three-putts to burn. Dark clouds gathered above, but I felt confident, knowing I could always count on my “putt-saver” tactics to bring home the bacon… or the pizza…or the pho.

I WALKED BY THE BAR WITHOUT STOPPING FOR LIQUID COMFORT.

On the pretty downhill 10th, ringed around the back with trees, I chose an approach club that would likely come up short. I guess I kept underestimating the mile-high altitude: the ball rolled onto the green and kept rolling, far to the right side below the hole, and I bogeyed with my THIRD THREE-PUTT. The next two holes yielded fairly routine two-putts, and it felt safe to hit my tee shot on the par-3 13th into a bunker with a lot of room between it and the pin. But my blast out stopped far short of the ridge that had to be crossed to the pin, and there was no way to stop my putt unless it hit the hole. So here was my FOURTH THREE-PUTT, with five holes to play and rain starting to fall.

THEN ON THE 14TH TEE, WE HEARD THUNDER AND SAW FLASHES. THE COURSE SOUNDED THE HORN THREE TIMES, A SIGNAL THAT THE COURSE WAS CLOSED, PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK.

I panicked, not having the least desire to be standing out in the open holding a metal stick in a lightning storm. Rock felt the same way. We decided we would play 14 and seek shelter at the restroom building by the green.

But 14 is not a what-you-see-is-what-you-get hole, and I could not see where I should drive the ball or how to approach the green. My orange ball found a watery grave, and the 9-ironed yellow ball I had planned to stop short of the green just trickled on. The hole had been cut in a niche at the top of the green, so I had a long approach putt and whacked it. Still it came up short about 12 feet.

The others holed their shots as the rain grew heavier, the thunder louder and the lightning ever closer. Rock held the flagstick, hovering above the hole, seemingly about to give me the 12-foot second putt so that we could run for the shelter. I eyed the prospect of my FIFTH THREE-PUTT, put down my sparkly pink heart ball marker and said, “I’ll wait.”

And we ran to watch the skies do their thing. It wasn’t long before our group agreed there could be no more golf that afternoon. We had rain gear, but the temperature had dropped at least 15 degrees and puddles had formed on the course. It kept raining hard.

Rock volunteered to go pick up my pink marker. “I wanted to give you that putt,” he said.

“I know,” I told him. “What do we do about the bet?”

I lamely observed that technically speaking, I had played my first round at South Suburban and three-putted only four times. But we could both hear the golf gods and goddesses laughing. There would have to be a rain check on Friday.

I’VE DECIDED TO DO MY PENANCE AND JUST PLAY GOLF THIS TIME.

Author’s note: The second outing went the full 18, but I didn’t need them. Had the bet clinched by the time we got to the 16th tee. In retrospect, we agreed, the over-under of just about anyone three-putting in an 18-hole round at the Burb is four.

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  1. Dave Hall